In which I get arrested.

29 Oct

A number of Saturdays ago Sierra Leone held a ‘cleaning exercise’. The first I heard of it was on the Friday afternoon, when a member of my office staff came around to inform us that we should not leave our houses between 7am and 12pm the next day unless our purpose in doing so was to clean our neighbourhood. Somewhat confused, my fellow ex-pat staff and I asked for further elucidation. It turns out that a couple of times a year (in theory – this was the first I’d witnessed in my year here) the government decides that the streets are simply TOO dirty, and therefore mandates the whole Freetown populous to spend a morning digging dirt out of ditches, cleaning up litter, etc.

I could not help but applaud this resolution; anyone who has spent any time in West Africa will be familiar with the feet deep piles of plastic, composting waste and old clothes that decorate most street corners. Also, the city had suffered from a cholera epidemic in recent months and any initiative that would help to do away pools of stagnant ‘water’ was therefore an entirely good idea. However, I also had things to do on that fair morning. Most importantly, I needed to go the Bank. ATMs are rare and temperamental beasts in this part of the world, and Sierra Leone has an entirely cash economy – it’s not possible to pay for ANYTHING using a card and therefore we are forced to part with wads of cash for everything from groceries to flights to 4X4s. Most people therefore spend an inordinately long time in the inordinately long queues of Freetown’s banks. Saturday morning is normally a good time to go, as a substantial portion of those lucky to have bank accounts are nursing their hangovers, and I was therefore reluctant to delay my trip. Consequently, I set off for town at about 10am. I was mildly surprised that there were no bikes or cars on the road, and that everyone outside did indeed seem to be cleaning, but with the entirely reprehensible arrogance of the white man in Africa I decided that no-one would mind if I just ‘popped into town’.

Rather unfortunately, ‘popping into town’ involved going past one of the city’s biggest police stations. And as I was sauntering past I was accosted by a rather affronted looking policeman. He asked to see my ‘international observer’ pass. I thought briefly about (a) claiming I’d left it at home or (b) flashing a Blockbuster video rental card that I’ve been pointlessly carrying around for the last year, but he had this sort of glint in my eye that suggested to me that he would fall for neither. I therefore admitted that I did not own such a thing, and that I was simply on my way to the Bank. He puffed himself up into a picture of righteous indignation (rather comically tempered with delight – a misbehaving white girl was almost certain to have financial pay-offs for him in one way or another) and said that in that case he would be obliged to take me into the police station.

I had not been into this fine establishment before, and two things immediately occurred to me. First of all, Sierra Leone had an absolutely amazing amount of policemen. There were genuinely about 100 bored looking ‘law enforcers’ lounging around in this 3 room building. Secondly, the cell into which I was deposited was rather comfier than most of the $100/night hotels that are Freetown’s only accommodation option. Budding travellers take note! Four policemen of varying seniority (but identical status-indicating paunches) soon joined me, all of whom had dollar signs for eyes. One of them commenced by writing out my ‘charge sheet’, which started as follows:

“The criminal, Katherine (sic) Parry, was arrested on Lightfoot Boston street at 11:21am for the crime of Cleaning Exercise violation…”

They informed me that either I would have to go to court, or I would have to pay a Le500,000 ($120) fine. Neither seemed like tempting options, so I politely asked if I could see the statute book in which my misdemeanour was declared illegal/my punishment was detailed. After some discussion, they admitted that they did not have such a thing, but that I could probably buy it in the nearby publications office. Which was shut. After a twenty minute hiatus in which I sat patiently waiting for someone to prove to me that I’d committed a crime the most senior of the police officers said that we could probably forget about the whole thing if I ‘helped to cover the administrative costs of my arrest’. I said that seemed fair (I’m really against bribes in general, but just couldn’t be bothered spend much more of my Saturday making a point of principle), they closed the door so that none of the 96 policeman outside could see what was happening, and 20 seconds late I had bought my freedom for an embarrassingly low price. I was even allowed to keep my charge sheet as a souvenir – it’s now one of my most treasured possessions; everyone needs a ‘that time I was arrested…’ after-dinner story, and I reckon I got mine pretty cheap.

I emerged from the police station at 12:01pm to find a city that had somehow immediately returned to previous levels of chaos and filth. Miraculous.

And the Bank was closed, just in case you were wondering.

A selection of recent happenings.

26 Sep

I seem to have slipped into a bad (or good/restrained?) habit of posting just once every month, and therefore have a number of incidents to recount.

(1) The time I rescued a sea turtle: I like that as a title. It makes me appear to be some sort bizarre mixture between Dr Doolittle and Florence Nightingale. (Advance apologies to my family, who have already had this story recounted to them at length via email. One has to make the most of these positive PR opportunities). I was walking along Lumley beach by myself at about 5pm (I do this often – it’s about 7km all the way down so a pleasant hour and a half stroll) when I saw something in the distance ahead of me that looked like a couple of men playing with a giant flying saucer. As I got closer I became increasingly convinced that what I was looking at was not, in fact, a UFO, but instead was a sea turtle. It was about 70cm across the shell, and very much alive. I managed to glean from the fishermen that it had got stuck in their nets, and done considerable damage. They were being horrible to it (turning it upside down, kicking it etc), and planning to eat it, but through extensive shouting/bargaining I managed to bribe them to release it back into the sea. It looked a little stunned, but did swim off. They’re very odd creatures, and I kept having flashbacks of the turtles in the brilliant animated film ‘Finding Nemo’. For the next hour or so I walked around in a haze of self-congratulation, until one of my more cynical friends pointed out that my intervention probably made no difference because one of the following probably happened: (a) they were going to release it anyway, (b) it did not survive the ordeal and died slowly and painfully at sea, or (c) the fishermen just went out and caught it again. Said ‘friend’ implied that I had probably just been scammed out of $10. Note to self: find less cynical/realistic friends, and surround self instead with turtle-loving optimists.

(2) The time it got cold in Freetown: Any of you who read this blog with any sort of regularity will know that complaining about the weather is one of my favourite pastimes. Life in Freetown segued seamlessly this year from being too hot to being too wet, with nary an appropriately weathered moment in the middle. I complained about this. A lot. Well, on Sunday it did not rain, and is was not too hot. It was, in fact, too cold. I had ventured to the beach for the first time since June and was forced to sit in a shivery and inadequately clad heap, rather than indulging in a little swim and then poncing around in my new rather-fetching kaftan. It was horrible. I shall never complain about Freetown’s customary weather ever again. (Well…). My food also took over two hours to come, which improved my mood not a lot. I’ve never been good at being either cold or hungry, so I suspect I may have to spend a large portion of my remaining time here making up to various friends for spending the whole day being a miserable sod.

(3) The time I lost my sole: This story may contain a sense of urgency missing in the two above because this time is, well, today. I ventured to Congo Market for the first time yesterday. I actually hadn’t heard about it last week, which, given my (self-professed) status as Freetown’s Premier Shopping Expert was really rather surprising. It is basically an amorphous collection of the stalls that are usually spread across the city in one place at one time. It’s manic. I was jogged and heckled more than I have ever been in Sierra Leone, but I also found more TREASURE than on any other single expedition. I’m going through a silk phase (it’s just so cool, and it feels so nice!) and I bought eight silk tops, two skirts (one silk), a pair of silk trousers and two pairs of shoes (one suede Russell and Bromley flats and one pair Italian leather heels). Today I wore the last of these to work. I don’t wear heels often, and am therefore not very good at navigating the hazards of doing so, but I rather enjoyed the unfamiliar teeter-y sensation as I left the house. As I got off my motorbike (NB I was not driving) outside the Bank, however, I slightly kicked a flagstone and basically knocked the entire sole of my shoe. I ummed and aahed about going home to change vs. soldiering on, but eventually decided on the latter (the traffic at that time of day is dire). By the time I got to my desk I was basically forced to kick up my sole in front of me on each step to avoid tripping over it, which entirely spoiled the unaccustomed ‘heel wiggle’ that I’d been so enjoying. Serves me right. I have been desk-bound all day, making increasingly bizarre excuses as to why I cannot go to see the Governor/go to lunch/fill up my water bottle. Back to the trusty flats tomorrow I think…

(4) I am moving house this evening. I took a load of stuff home with me when I went on leave in July, and therefore fondly imagined that 2 suitcases would be easily sufficient to transport my possessions to my new residence. Not so; the volume of my clothing is really quite staggering. Perhaps I’d better not make too many more trips to Congo Market…

In which I have a difficult decision to make.

31 Aug

Life has been fairly quiet since I came back from leave. After five wonderful weeks in the UK and Romania (about which I may write more at some future stage) I returned to a country still in the grips of one of the wettest rainy seasons on record, grappling with a cholera outbreak and gearing up for elections which have caused companies seeking to take on new international staff to delay their arrival for a few months. All this has meant that there has been rather less going on than in usual in Freetown, for which I am rather grateful; not only is going outside when it’s absolutely pouring with rain not that much fun, I have also enjoyed the time to rest and recoup after a busy and rather hectic few weeks away.

This weekend, however, I have committed myself to taking part in an activity that has caused (and is continuing to cause me) considerable angst… I am going to a beauty salon. This activity may not inspire fear and conscience-wrestling in the vast majority of the population but I have three distinct grounds for concern:

Firstly, this is my first visit to a ‘beauty salon’. (I can practically feel the editors of women’s magazines running whole gamut from Vogue to Closer emitting a sigh of disbelief and falling lifeless to the floor). Yes, that’s right, I have never had a manicure, pedicure or facial. I have always been vaguely aware that these are all important monthly or biannual milestones for most women, but I’ve never really questioned my inherited belief that natural is best, or my personal conviction that if you’re six foot, wearing a yellow and orange fish print dress and spouting almost continuous nonsense then no-one is likely to be critically inspecting your toenails. This, apparently, is naïve. I have periodically been told that my feet are a disgrace (which they are – I’ve always cultivated hard skin so that I can walk around barefooted al summer), that my nails would look much better shaped and polished (I’m not so sure about this; wouldn’t that just draw attention to the fact that they’re rather stubby and square after 23 years of being bitten?) and that I will wake up at 50 wrinklier than a bassett hound unless I develop a skin-care regime a little more sophisticated than ‘occasionally splashing my face with cold water’. Last night my lovely friend Katie, who would never be so crass as to comment on any of the above, asked last night if I’d like to go to Freetown’s one beauty parlour I was taken rather by surprise. But now that I am at, at 25, Real Adult with a fairly decent Disposable Income (until I change jobs next month, that is, but I may as well make the most of it till then…) perhaps the time has come to make this (expensive) leap into (cough) ‘true womanhood’.

Secondly, whilst it seems that most other women have a detailed and thought out explanation and justification for why they spread gold dust and algae over their face every thirteen and a quarter hours, I do not have any sort of ‘beauty philosophy’. All I currently possess is a decent(ish) grasp of personal hygiene. So I’ve been giving the matter considerable thought today (again it’s important to make the most of down time in my current job to practice self-indulgent introspection; it’s highly likely I won’t have this luxury at the next one). And what I have come up with is serious cause for concern. I have noted a definite trend in my attitude towards the purchasing of services: I like to get my money’s worth. So far, so normal, but I define ‘getting my money’s worth’ in a very particular way; I like to leave the person who has performed the service a shadow of their former self. This is true in many situations, but I want to demonstrate my point using two particular examples:

(1) Massages: Again, I’m no connoisseur, but sometimes when I’ve been to parts of the world which have considerably cheaper labour costs than my own (Thailand, Syria) I have succumbed to one of the hundreds of badly spelt signs offering a body pummelling. In Thailand I had two. The first was one of the most painful experiences of my life; a deceptively tiny thai lady walked up and down my spine, cracked joints I did not know I had (and possibly did not have before she got involved) and left me with several friction burns. It was wonderful. The second played beautifully relaxing tinkly music, covered me with jasmine petals and then waltzed out of the room. I left feeling as if I’d be robbed; if I am paying someone to massage me then I want them to be exhausted and gasping for breath when they finish. Yes, I may also be experiencing considerable discomfort, but at least I have to peace of knowing that I’ve purchased their sweat and toil – that I have purchased their exertion. (Syria was also very satisfactory in this respect – my sister and I were in a communal bath and, on agreeing to the full treatment, were grabbed by a naked elderly lady, stripped and scrubbed until we were devoid of every single cell of non-essential skin.)

(2) Art Exhibitions: Although there is superficially little in common between purchasing a massage and a ticket to an exhibition I think the same thing applies. I recently went to the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate, and found it hugely disappointing. Sure, the shark and cut-in-half-cow were cool, but in general it seemed to be a horribly laissez-faire approach to art. And what was with all the dot paintings (which must have taken about 20 seconds each), or all the times he’d just taken all his spare toiletries and just arranged them in no particular order in medical cabinets? This is not all consuming, soul-sucking art creation. You could ‘create’ any of these things whilst eating a mars bar and listening to the sports news on the BBC World Service (which, incidentally, I’m doing a lot of at the moment – even hours of droning on about the transfer window are preferable to the monotonous sound of another foot of rain falling). As I left I deeply begrudged the £15.50 I’d be charged to get in. (The butterfly room was cool though. I’d heartily recommend that. But FYI the one at London Zoo is much bigger.) For contrast, I’d like to draw your attention to the works of John Martin. The Tate Britain recently hosted an exhibition of his work, titled ‘Apocalypse’, which was basically a staggering number of enormous and minutely rendered ‘epic’ canvasses spanning the past (and future), and the rainbow. His attention to architectural and historical detail is startling, and his two most famous paintings (depictions of the end of the world that have inspired generations of science fiction writers) took him several years to create, and caused several bouts of depression. Now I am, of course, sad to hear of his trials and tribulations, and I would not wish mental illness on anyone, but as a result of what he had suffered for his art I in no way begrudged the entry fee. (In the interests of full disclosure I have to admit that someone else might have paid for me, but this is strictly irrelevant.)

So my philosophy on paying for services is ‘the greater the exertion, the more satisfied the customer’. And I do like to be consistent. But I’m just not sure that I can apply this same precept to someone giving me a facial… it’s well known that the skin on our face is very delicate, and it’s highly likely that rigorous pummelling would leave me bearing a closer resemblance to something from by Picasso than something by Titian. (And, to add insult to injury, Picasso definitely features on my Damien-Hirst-led black list of artists.). Something to think about…

Finally, I mentioned ‘nonchalantly’ to a friend (ie in an attempt to demonstrate how sophisticated I am) that I am going to be popping down to the Chinese Beauty Parlour (yes, I pronounced the capital letters) on Sunday, and did not get at all the reaction I suspected. He (Imran) looked aghast, and said he assumed I did not know that ‘concerned citizens’ were boycotting that institution, on account of the fact that they are keeping a chimpanzee as a pet. Tacugama, the wonderful local chimpanzee sanctuary, has apparently been to visit them to ask them to give it up both for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of the chimp, but they have refused. Apparently said chimp is taken to restaurants, and generally treated like a favourite child. I was entirely split. On the one hand, I know chimps are generally unhappy in captivity, can become aggressive to humans and are seriously endangered. On the other hand, I have something of a hankering to see a chimp wearing a nappy and clothes. And yes I KNOW that the latter is unworthy, but I’m finding my curiosity hard to stifle. I have even today found myself considering whether or not the chimp might be involved in giving me my pedicure.

Who knew that deciding to visit a beauty parlour could be so fraught with difficulties?

In which I head home…

13 Jul

I have been in West Africa without a break, but the time has finally come for me to venture back to cooler climes – I head to the UK for a month on Sunday (before – never fear – coming back to Salone).  Several things have happened recently that have really made me realise that I need the break – that I need to get away for a little while:


 – I woke up recently desperately wanting a Gregg’s Sausage Roll.  I have had plenty of bakery based dreams in my time here, but never have they descended so down the ‘patisserie’ scale.  I need to go and remind myself quite how horrid that particular chain is.


 – I’m not sure I remember how to use a clutch.  My control of this particular technological item has never been strong at the best of times, but 9 months of driving an automatic have left me profoundly uncertain about every aspect of driving a manual.  And I fear that driving in Sierra Leone more generally will not have improved my already hazy knowledge of road rules, nor my ability or willingness to follow them.  If I am ever to be a semi-decent driver I need to go home and unlearn some of the terrible habits I have picked up.  (MOTORISTS OF SCOTLAND – BEWARE!)


 – Olive and I need to take some time apart.  After a rocky start to our relationship we had had a strong few months recently, but last Sunday undid a lot of the good work.  My boyfriend and I had planned to go and stay at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary for the night, never suspecting that Andy Murray would choose that particular day to make his debut at the Wimbledon final.  We were forced to leave the match at about 3:30pm (which, with hindsight, was just about perfect timing – we saw the first two epic sets, but not the time when it all started to go wrong), and rather reluctantly climbed into Olive for the drive to the Chimps.  I turned the key and… splutter, splutter, splutter, die.  Doom.  Despair.  I called her every name under the son, and called a pox on her only-slightly-scratched green paintwork.  My boyfriend gently suggested that I had perhaps run out of fuel.  I was incensed.  RUN OUT OF FUEL?  How dare he?  Does he think I’m some sort of idiot?  He wordlessly took a couple of bottles, filled them up at the nearest petrol station, put the fuel into the car, and drove us to Tacugama.  It is a mark of his extreme self-control and good nature that he did not crow at all, but merely suggested mildly about an hour later that my fuel might have been siphoned.  Which is definitely what happened.  Obviously.  (In my defense, my fuel gauge does not work, so petrol management is trickier than it might be.).  Why, you may be asking, do I therefore need a break from Olive?  She did not, after all, fail me.  The fact is that I am now too embarrassed to face her having doubted her to such an extent.  She strikes me as the sort to hold grudges, so I imagine she’d break down at the next seriously inconvenient moment.


 – I have run out of cash.  In any sensible country this would merely prompt a trip to an ATM, but this is not possible here…  The small number of ATMs in town are not currently functioning, and the only place where one can withdraw cash on Visa charges a not-so-small fortune.  (Cash shortages are seriously affecting my present buying, so if you are expecting something from me and I don’t produce anything when I get home it is because of this problem and this problem along.  Clearly.)


 – I have slightly lost my sense of humour/tolerance to having 50 random men per day shouting “white girl”, “baby” or, worst of all, “Mummy” at me.  Up until very recently I have managed a wry smile, or not of acknowledgement, but I currently ignore people entirely or even scowl at them.  This is not acceptable, because excessive frowning will lead to wrinkles.  And also because it’s terribly bad manners.  Four weeks of crass anonymity in the UK will doubtless reawaken my (currently-hibernating) inner attention-craver.


 – I am simply not prepared to go another week without seeing my friends, my family and, particularly, our new puppy Delilah…


I reckon I’ll just have time to post this before turning off my computer, packing up my desk and leaving my office  for 30 whole days.  Truly the best feeling in the world…

In which the heavens open.

29 Jun

I make no pretence of being a scientist.  Technology baffles me, and l’m simply not one of those people who had to know ‘how things work’; as far as I’m concerned what happens when one turns one’s key in the ignition is magic (or, with my car, nothing whatsoever).  Over the last few weeks I have, however, been pondering a scientific problem or, more accurately, a meteorological problem:


How is it possible that the sky can hold as much rain as has fallen on the baking streets of Freetown in the last month or so?  HOW?  I simply do not understand how it can be non-stop sunny for 8 months, and then non-stop rainy for 4.  Where is the evaporated water being stored?  And, more importantly, WHY? 


I read somewhere that in the UK we have 13 commonly used words for precipitation, but none of them are apposite for rainy season in West Africa.  Deluge probably comes closest, but this to me implies a sort of brevity of phenomenon which is fundamentally lacking from weather patterns here.  Compared to Sierra Leone the UK of my memory is an arid wasteland.  Probably the most helpful analogy here is that of the shower.  The power shower.  Imagine a state-of-the-art showerhead that is about 300 miles across, and you’ll have some idea about Sierra Leone in from June to September.  Yup, that’s right.  This is just the beginning…  August is, apparently, far worse.


At the moment it does not rain every day, and only about one day in five is a complete right off.  Most days involve just an hour long shower in the morning, and then rain in the evening and/or during the night…  A welcome side-effect of the rain is that sunsets, having simply involved the sun vanishing behind a haze or dust for the last six months, have suddenly become a spectacular riot of blues, golds and pinks.  I have taken, of an evening, to strolling the 3-4km along Lumley Beach and back to enjoy the breeze and marvel over the daily gift that is the sinking of our life-giving ball of flaming gas.  This routine change is proving to be both good for the soul, and may even end of being good for the waistline.  It is, however, also hazardous.  Last week as I walked, eyes fixed on the glorious horizon (I think I was attempting to spot cloud dragons), I reflected on how wonderful life was.  Sierra Leone, however, was reluctant to let me wallow in self-congratulation regarding my life decisions… I suddenly became aware of ‘a presence’ at my back, and turned to see an entirely different world behind me – where the sky to the west was lit with a soft, gentle powder pink light, that to the east was as menacing a prospect as I have ever seen.  The sky was a harsh powder grey, and liberally dashed with black clouds that were definitely heading in my direction.  The sky was, well, brooding.  I was exactly half way along the beach, and had therefore virtually no chance of getting any sort of lift.  In a stunning volte face, I reflected that life well and truly sucked.  But, yet again, Sierra Leone had other ideas – the rain that had seemed so inevitable simply and unbelievably melted away, leaving a sky that was once again placid.  This happens so frequently (though not frequently enough!) that there is a phrase for it in Krio – “di rehn mek magigi”, which means “the rain looks like it’s going to come but doesn’t”.  Rather neat, I think.


The uber-deluge poses all sorts of day-to-day difficulties – one has to learn to be incredibly flexible about meetings and social arrangements, spaces in a taxi become much rarer than precious stones (this is, after all, the land of Blood Diamond) and it’s almost impossible to take a step indoors without tripping over a drying umbrella or slipping in its accompanying puddle.  More serious (obviously) is that the change of season requires a significant wardrobe adjustment… 

  • It is suicide to leave the house without a waterproof jacket and/or umbrella.  Particularly if wearing a white shirt.  (And yes, I do speak from experience).
  • Footwear decisions become impossible.  Normal (leather) shoes quickly become ruined, but flip-flops simply spray mud and water of questionable cleanliness all over the back of one’s legs.  Many resort of the wellington boot, but these are rather warm (rain does not mean cold, but instead that dry heat is swapped for a lovely sauna type heat), and walking sandals are both horrid and not kosher for work.  I recently found the perfect pair of plastic jelly-shoe type slip-ons, which I have been wearing everywhere, but yesterday I spotted a little tear in the plastic and I fear they’ve on their way out, and that I shall therefore be plunged back into the abyss of lack-of-suitable-footwear-gloom.
  • The problem is not just confined to the clothes that one does wear… the clothes that one does not wear present similar difficulties.  Such is the level of humidity that anything made of natural fabrics (ie leather, silk, wool, untreated cotton)is inclined to grow a charming layer of mould.  MOULD.  I love my belts a borderline unhealthy amount, and it is therefore torture for me to see them suffer and sicken in this way.  I plan to take all non-essential items home with me next month, and to bring back litres of protective spray for the remainder.  Until then I must simply continue to fight off the nightmares of disintegrating clothes that plague my sleep.


All of the above may seem rather depressing, but (with the exception of the mould, which has no silver lining whatsoever) I am rather enjoying the challenges of the new season.  The mood of plucky optimism has been considerably enhanced by a recent purchase; one of my standard ‘junks’ perusals last week hit the jackpot – I spotted a promising corner of canvas, which I pounced on and, after removing the approximately 2 tonnes of clothing on top of it, I was soon the proud owner of a bright yellow hooded mackintosh with a lining of green spouting whales on navy blue.   This garment is, if I may say so myself, both functional and adorable, and I now feel ready to face whatever rain this country can throw at me.


And if this new purchase optimism should begin to fade I can always comfort myself with the thought that current weather conditions seems to be even worse in the UK…

A very sad day.

21 May

One of my colleagues died on Friday.  He was ill for a short amount of time, was sent in for an appendicitis operation, and never regained consciousness.  It’s not clear what exactly went wrong.  I’m no doctor, but I thought that such operations were relatively routine.  This appears not to be the case here, as no-one seems particularly surprised at the manner of his death.

Sheriff was about 40, and had a wife and a large but unspecified number of children.  He was one of the nicest men I have had the pleasure to meet in this country; he went out of his way to ensure that I felt at ease when I first arrived, was permanently upbeat and never failed to greet me with a cheerful “Hello Mummy Kate!” every time he saw me.  His absence leaves a huge hole in the department.

My employers, who fortunately have a generous policy of providing for the next-of-kin of employees, arranged for a group of us to go and pay our respects to his family today.  He lived in the middle of a little settlement of sturdy two room dwellings near the centre of town, and such was the number of mourners we were not all able to get into his house.  His hollow-eyed widow was very gracious, and seemed to appreciate the prayer a friend of mine said as much as the cheque she received.  I found myself praying in a way that I rarely have before.

Quite apart from my own feelings about this particular death, it has really brought home the precarious nature of life here.  It is not just the numerous babies of poor and ill-educated women that lack access to decent medical care; even those with a decent job and a decent wage simply do not have access to reliable healthcare.  If I were to become seriously ill I know that my UK insurance provider would arrange for me to be flown home, but for most people here even a comparatively small complaint can be life-threatening.  I don’t want to start spouting clichés; I don’t want to rant about the injustice of it all, or to record for the millionth time that every death represents a person.


But it’s true.

In which I am extremely rash.

18 May

Sometimes I wake up in a very particular sort of odd mood.  I feel slightly on edge, slightly discomfited and just ever-so-slightly rash.  Now I’m pretty sure that it is in these sorts of moods that many people push their boundaries, make wonderful discoveries and generally improve themselves or the world around them.  Not so me.  On these sorts of day I tend to either seriously endanger my relationship with someone or physically injur myself in some way.  It was on one of ‘those days’ that I chose to actually respond honestly when a friend asked me if I liked her new dress, on one of those days that I managed to break the camera that is my mother’s pride and joy, and on one of those days that I fell into an open fish tank aged four and blackened both of my eyes.


It is highly probable that any normal human being would have learnt from their mistakes; that, on waking with a metaphorical “danger” sign flashing above their heads they would simply choose that day as a ‘bond with duvet’ day.  I, however, remain convinced that the disasters resulting from said mood on all previous days were simply aberrations, and on every such morning hope springs afresh that on this day I will do Great Things.


I had one such day last Sunday.  I woke up earlier than normal (probably due to a subliminal sense of foreboding relating to the day to come) and wandered through into the kitchen, where I caught sight of a couple of fat, juicy Guinea mangoes.   A ‘brilliant’ idea struck me; I would make mango muffins!  For what could be more grown-up or more effortlessly Nigella Lawson-esque than to be ready with a tray of delicious-smelling baked goods when my housemates finally emerged yawning from their respective rooms?  It is, you see, another character trait of ‘that mood’ that I become eternally optimistic and blithely unconcerned with past failings; I am not a good cook, and the branch of cooking at which I excel least is baking.


Things started well.  Although I was sad not to have the perfect Cath Kidson apron, I buzzed happily around the kitchen gathering ingredients and chopping up mangoes.  This last is a particular joy; we are currently slap bang in the middle of mango season, and baskets many varieties of hits glorious fruit sit weightily on most street corners.  My early forays into mango eating were half-hearted tentative affairs, in which I would sit with a plate and penknife and daintily nibble  at perfectly chopped slices, but I quickly learnt that 80% of the joy in eating a mango is in ripping the skin open with your teeth and then seeing how large a proportion of your face you can cover with the sweet, sticky pulp.  This latter was the chopping approach I used.  I hacked off the skin willy-nilly and then attacked the soft flesh from all angles, before contemplatively sucking the stone and pondering my next step.  As I fished my around in the cupboard for the final ingredient, baking soda, I remember distinctly thinking to myself “I don’t know why I don’t do this more often…”.


The mixing too initially went well, but about half way down my carefully written out instructions I came across the phrase “combine the oil with lightly-beaten eggs”.  Lightly beaten eggs?  I have just enough cooking knowledge that this threw me into a panic.  What does that even mean?  Do I merely mix the yolk and white, am I looking for frothy, or are soft peaks the order of the day?  I looked around desperately for someone I could ask, but the only living creature in sight (the cat) was not in the least helpful.  I seriously considered.  I seriously considered waking my domestic-goddess friend Allyson to ask advice, but had just enough awareness of the time to resist doing so.  My panic was mounting, but this first dilemma was de-facto solved when I discovered that we do not, in fact, own a whisk, and my only option therefore was to content myself with a little light beating with a fork.  Walking around the kitchen doing so made me feel awfully professional, and therefore went some way to calming my shattered nerves.


Not long afterwards I realised that I had combined all the relevant ingredients (double checking the sugar/salt thing, obviously – seventeen times bitten, eighteen times shy), and accordingly swelled with pride.  Until I read that the final mixture should be ‘barely damp’ and evenly textured.  Mine was distinctly sloppy, and rather lumpy.  I chose not to let this fully register, and jammed the mixture into a couple of little loaf tins.  (Anyone who actually owns a muffin tin at my age should be condemned to death by Katie’s cooking for the great crime of ‘showing the rest of us up’).  This is the part of cooking that I always hate the most.  My mother is a famous burner of dishes, and therefore instilled in us from a young age that the most promising dish can go from perfectly golden brown to fully charcoaled in the blink of an eye.   I took this for heart, and am therefore entirely unable to stop myself from opening the oven door every 10 seconds while something is cooking to ensure that I don’t miss the all-important window.   I realised fairly quickly that my ‘muffins’ were not enjoying this attention; after 15 minutes they were not noticeably risen, and small bubbles of gas were periodically rising to the surface and then bursting with an ominously damp ‘pop’.  In a desperate bid to keep the heat in I stopped treating the oven door like a yo-yo and instead contented myself with sitting cross-legged in front of the cooker and staring fixedly into its sooty depths.  It was in this distinctly not-domestic-goddess-esque position that I was found twenty minutes later by the first of my housemates to awaken.   Even in my nearly-comatosed-with-stress state I was mildly surprised by the look for horror on his face, but with hindsight that expression was highly appropriate; he had emerged, hungover and in search of bacon, to find the surfaces awash with miscellaneous ingredients (I’m not really a ‘tidy up as you go along’ sort of cook), flour all over the floor and his normally sane-ish housemate crouching protectively against the oven with mango pulp in her eyebrows.


He gently steered me towards the sofa, and pointed out that this was actually a win-win situation; either I would end up with lovely muffins and would be admired and praised by all my housemates, or I would create a disastrous chargrilled goo and be forcibly prevented from again putting myself (or the kitchen) through the terrors of the last hour or so.  This logic appealed to me, and I just about held it together enough to retrieve 4 perfectly golden brown and decently risen loaves from the oven a short while later.  I was overjoyed!  I was the domestic whizz that I had always secretly suspected!  All memory of the trauma I had just passed through was instantly erased as I proudly presented my friends with these little miracles.  


Does this sound too good to be true?  It was.  On turning my muffin/loaf out of its tin I found that the bottom was black.  Completely black.  I had somehow managed to create a cake with a golden top and a chargrilled bottom.  All my housemates were suitably impressed; they, like myself, had no idea that this was possible.  One of them even ventured that I must be a very talented cook to have managed this.  Once the bottom had been sliced off (and occasional pocket of unmixed flour had been removed and the undercooked sections had been avoided) they actually did taste quite nice.


I don’t know why I don’t bake more often…

In which nothing is as it seems…

15 May

This is a bizarre country.  If you look carefully you begin to see all sorts of bizarre things going on all around you.  Off the top of my head:

  • An ordinary tin can is often magically transformed into storage container, peanut measuring device (if you ask for a tin full it is standard practice to fill the tin, and then create an improbably elaborate pyramid of peanuts such that not one more nut could be squeezed on.  I think this says good things about national generosity!), instrument, children’s toy, roof hole blocker etc etc.  Sierra Leonean ingenuity can be breathtaking…
  • The very fine hourglass shaped spring that is so perfect to cook with (coal goes into the top half, and the pot is balanced on top) is actually the internal portion of a car wheel, and the grills placed on top is actually some-other-part-of-the-car-that-I-didn’t-know-existed-and-certainly-can’t-name.
  • Men take a great interest in babies here.  Seriously.  For my first few months I would regularly ‘aaaw’ at the sight of young men pushing around prams.  I was so very impressed!   A man showing such devotion to offspring is inspiring in itself, but in a country where there is more pothole than road, and where pavements are urban legends, it really does show impressive male commitment to the health and happiness of babies.  THIS is the attitude that we need to breed in the UK; for each yummy mummy we should see a multi-tasking young man pushing a stroller with a toddler firmly grasping his other hand.  I wondered if perhaps Sierra Leone was the paradise of gender equality that I had always sought… (conveniently forgetting momentarily that women are commonly married at 16, have some of the highest fertility rates in the world and are overwhelmingly ‘circumcised).  These men even commonly have music playing from these prams, leading me to think that they may be getting on board with this ‘baby genius’ fad, which suggests that playing Mozart to young children may increase their IQ.  This music was, admittedly, more Nigerian pop than the Magic Flute, but I was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I took to absolutely beaming at them as I walked past, to show my approval of their chosen activities.  I was mildly surprised when these men, who were clearly in a relationship, often responded with “I love you” or “I want to be with you”, but I reasoned that ‘perfect father’ does not necessarily imply ‘perfect husband’.  It was only comparatively recently that a more worldly and less short-sighted friend suggested that I should have a quick look into one of these prams.   I wondered briefly if they were trying to gauge how broody I was, or kick-start my biological clock (which is running very slow).   Nevertheless, next time I was passing one of these proud Papas I snuck a little peek at his little darling.  Only to find that the pram was chock-a-block full with ice and beer cans.  It turns out that all the frightfully smart prams donated by well-to-do Kensington mothers (who then smugly congratulate themselves on easing the lives of ‘those poor ladies in Afrikaaaah’) are quickly transformed into portable alcohol stores.  Lovely.
  • Old car carburettors can become belt buckles.  Confession:  this is a massive plug.   My boyfriend has started a business making (well, getting SL tailors to make) awesome belts and selling them both here and overseas.  He sources colourful West African cloth, gets buckles made by guys at an NGO run centre to help those with polio, and then gets these sewn into the wonderful belts you can see in the picture.  (My housemate Petra also does ties!).  Some of the belts are made of wax cotton, and some are made of country cloth.  The latter (which makes up the woollier looking belts on the bottom right of the table) is made by a lady in Kabala, who had a limb amputated in the recent war.  She takes t-shirts, jumpers etc (which come second hand from the UK!), unravels them, and then re-weaves the cotton into rugs (which the tailor then cuts up and makes into belts.  Each belt is hand sewn by Osman, and each tie is sewn by Samba, and they are therefore unique.  This is ethical fashion at its finest!  If you’re interested in buying a belt or tie (and thereby adding a little taste of the exotic to your wardrobe as well as supporting a couple of different Sierra Leonean craftsmen) then comment on this post (a website,, should also be up soon).   Another BRILLIANT company exporting Sierra Leonean flare to the wider public is NearFar (, run by my friend Stephanie Hogg; she uses Sierra Leonean tailors and glorious West African fabrics to makes beautiful and very elegant dresses, jackets, bags etc (and has been featured in Stella, UK Vogue and the NY Times).
  • There are all sorts of other things that are just not at all what they first appear, but having successfully conned you into reading all about Bureh Belts (and therefore been Most Supportive Girlfriend Ever) I can’t be bothered to detail them…

Yes, I have finally worked out how to put photos onto my blog.  This took me about 12 attempts (due to internet speed) but I remain undeterred and shall try to enliven my endless prose with a couple of images in future.  (That I have managed to do this is also evidence that even the most technologically incapable person can learn new skills.  Hooray!)

In which I am a better naturalist than David Attenborough

2 May

I am sure you have all been waited with breath that is bated to hear whether or not Grant was able to produce a Picathartes for me on my birthday.  I am reluctant to prolong this suspense more than is strictly necessary, but to get to the point immediately would be a severe break from the past on this blog and therefore best not attempted.


Some background, therefore:  Borrow and Demey’s seminal “Birds of West Africa” provides the following description of the Picathartes:


“Strange-looking, slender forest birds with bare head and long, strong legs.  Fast and agile, progressing long springing hops.  Dependent on caves or overhanging rocks for breeding.  Nest is a bowl of mud plastered to rock face.  Secretive but not shy.”


There are two different species, of which the ‘Yellow Headed Picathartes” (native to Sierra Leone) is by far the most charismatic.  Borrow and Demey describe it in the following deeply enigmatic terms:


“Joins mixed-species flocks; attends ant-swarms.  Endemic.  Mostly silent.”


If we lay aside the misused semi-colon for a second (difficult, I know) this description delights me.  There is something glorious condescending about ‘attends ant-swarms’, and I have been entirely intrigued by ‘mostly silent’.  Mostly silent?  This merely made me DESPERATE to know what weird and wonderful things they might say when the urge finally took them.  Our bird guide Kenneth claims that no-one has ever heard the Picathartes make a noise, but after several hours combing the internet I have found an obscure page claiming that they occasionally make a “shhhhshi” or “tok” call (This was a minor disappointment, I confess.  ‘Tok’ seems to me to be a particularly stupid noise, and not at all the sort that would be made by a bird of high principles and intellect.).


These are not the only notable features of the Picathartes.  The following are also noteworthy:

  • They are revered by many local groups as ‘forest guardians’.
  • Scientists remain undecided about how to classify the bird; it has been, at different times, classed with crows, warblers and babblers.  The debate continues, with many ornithologists now claiming that it is the final surviving member of a long dead class of avians.
  • They look like they are made of plasticine and designed as children’s toys (
  • They have been an early and major target of major naturalists from Gerald Durrell to David Attenborough (


The Gola Forest, where we headed last weekend, is the largest remaining area of forest in Sierra Leone (which was  70% covered in forest in the not too distant past, but now only has 5% woodland cover – for a pretty comprehensive analysis of the fascinating flora and fauna of the country see top result:  Sorry for all these bulky link by the way; I have no idea how to do that neat hyperlinked ‘here’ that others manage).  It sits on the Liberia border, about a 7 hour drive from Freetown, the capital.  We left town after work on Thursday, and our snail-like progress across rush-hour town combined with a terribly slow journey in an enormous rusting hulk of a bus meant that it was the wee hours of the morning before we found ourselves in Kenema.  We were delighted (not) to discover on our arrival that our hostel appeared to be hosting some sort of rave…


The next morning (my birthday!) we met our guide (the wonderful Kenneth ,THE go to man for birding in Sierra Leone – (+232) 7652 0122), who had sorted our permits etc for us, as well as bikes to take us the hour or so to Lailehun, a tiny village on the forest edge.  There we picked up a rather silent porter (Kenneth’s catering for the trip was EPIC in its thoroughness and complexity – we feasted like kings and I would therefore advise even those who are not really interested in birds to take Kenneth along on any Salone adventure.  Banana pancakes, irish potatoes or grilled fish with sweet potato chips and onion gravy anyone?), and the wonderful Moses (who, at 55, showed no sign of giving in to any of the ravages of age and had the most wonderfully expressive face.  He even got me to run at one stage, which is no mean feat – I think this is the first time I have moved my legs faster than a brisk walk since 2005, when I left the world of compulsory sport).


The forest was intensely thick and hot; I spent most of the next few days covered in a delightful ‘sheen’ of sweat, which was not in the least attractive (though has left a welcome legacy of peachy-soft skin).  Over the course of the next few days we saw many wonderful birds.  Most, admittedly, were sighted on entry and exit from the forest (where the thick feathered-friend concealing foliage was replaced by open spaces and isolated tress).  Both Grant and I are comparatively new to birding as something that ‘we’ do, rather than something we follow our fathers while they are doing; it actually felt great to be taking my first wobbly steps in an ornithological direction, even if I think that forest birding is still a little beyond me – I am many many lifetimes from being able to see a momentary flash of wing and confidently pronounced that it was a lesser-spotted blue-nosed womble (or whatever).  I begin to suspect that, like driving, this is all a confidence trick; if you convince yourself that you can do these sorts of things then you often find that you actually can (or at least that others believe that you can).  If you are currently extremely concerned about my driving abilities then you are a wise, wise reader.


Did we see a Picathartes?  Well, we headed up to the nest sight as silently as we could on the evening of my birthday.  We arrived there at about 4:30pm and there was clear evidence of 3 nests, though none looked particularly fresh.  No birds.  We had been told that 5pm-6pm was their most likely moment.  5pm arrived and past.  6pm arrived at past.  We all began to despair.  Also, it turned out that Kenneth (our guide) had considerable faith in the birdbook’s pronouncement that the Picatharates is not shy (or that he has the attention span of a beetle), and within about 20 minutes he seemed to have lost interest in gazing at the rock.  He had instead removed one flip-flop and seemed to be on a one man mission to kill all invertebrates in the forest – about every 30 seconds he would bring his slipper down with a large FLOP on some trunk or body part and then sit and admire whatever smudge he had created underneath with a thoroughly self-satisfied expression.  I could feel Grant getting crosser and crosser (as the noise reverberated around the forest and there was, surprise surprise, still no Picathartes).  Eventually he took the flip flop and gave Kenneth a small leafy branch in its stead.  Kenneth looked surprised, and then delighted.  He tied it in such a way that when he proceeded to launch his next attack with it made an ENORMOUSLY loud (much louder than the flip flop) sort of whipping WHOMP.  Grant livid. 


At 7pm, just as we were about to call it a night, I suddenly saw Kenneth stiffen and point to a spot just underneath the boulder (about 30ft in front of us).  There, sure enough, was  A PICATHARTES!  It was entirely unmistakeable, with its yellow head bobbing in what was left of the evening light.  It proceeded to behave just as a Picathartes should – it hopped all around the rock cocking its head hither and thither, before flopping off the end of the rock and disappearing off into the gathering night.  It then returned to sit with its mate on a branch about 60 feet away.  Hooray!  They really are remarkably peculiar looking birds and I entirely sympathise with father’s impression that they are not real/made of wax.  We returned to the camp delighted.  It really felt very special to have been able to see these things in their element… WHAT a birthday present!  (We were also forced to admit that our doubt of Kenneth’s methods was misguided.  Perhaps Picathartes are actually attracted by piles of squashed flies that he creates…).


We headed back to Lailehun village on Saturday night, and decided to go for an evening walk along the paths in the semi-cultivated areas to look for more birdlife.   Anyway, this particularly evening stroll was not a success is birding terms; no sooner had we left the ‘safety’ of the village than we were hit by the sort of sudden blinding rainstorm that is only going to become more common in the next few months.  We were quickly soaked to the skin, and stopped to wait the end of the rains in the next village (where we were forcefed ‘fruit wine’ – “Just like wine from portugal” apparently.  Um.  No.).  We then meandered back through a rather spectacular sunset – the rain had brought out lots of little flies (and some glow worms) and everything was very new and clean and fresh.  Glorious!


The next morning (yesterday morning) we had more success…  We meandered in the direction of Kenema for a few hours until our bike boys came to collect us, and this was when we saw some of the most spectacular things – we saw a Black Bee-eater, a Broad-Billed Roller and the Great Blue Turaco (which resembles a large bright blue and lime green turkey).  I continue to harbour the suspicion that my taste is birds is terribly plebeian.  The creatures that give me the most pleasure tend to be plucky, cheeky and common species like the Roller, Tern or Robin, rather than the disdainfully enigmatic (and rather superior) ‘rare’ species.  (The Picathartes is clearly an exception here; it will forever have a special place in my heart!) It was a really lovely morning walk interspersed with mangos and even perfect avocadoes, peeled and then eaten off the stone.   All birds thoroughly obliging, sitting and preening for enough time for even I to identify them. 


Grant has an obsession with picking up feathers and storing them in the page of the bird he thinks they came from, which is all very well.  But he then gets ever-so-slightly cross when I enthusiastically flick through, scattering feathers everywhere in manner of school pillow fight.   My excuse is that I think he secretly enjoys spending half an hour carefully putting them all back in.  I like to keep him busy.  We found several Picathartes feathers, including some lovely downy ones, which I then managed to scatter all over my room as we were having a bird debrief on our return to Freetown.  It was not altogether easy to distinguish these from the feathers that my lovely John Lewis pillow occasionally emits, so it is now more than possible that several of the feathers loving stored in the Picathartes section of the book do, in fact, belong to the common duck… 


A thoroughly successful birthday weekend!  It strikes me as worth noting that, since I encountered the legendary Picathartes at the tender age of (just) 25, I am clearly a better bird-watcher than David Attenborough (who did not see one until he was 28).  I’m expecting a call from the BBC ANY MINUTE NOW.

In which I aim to be brief in order to spare myself unnecessary pain.

24 Apr

It occurred to me recently that it was about time I devoted another post to Olive, my ‘dear darling’ vehicle.   She, of all the weird and wonderful subjects I have chosen to write about here, seems to have most captured the imagination of those kind enough to occasionally peruse these pages (and those of you with whom I am in personal contact almost always ask after her).   If I were to use one word to summarise our relationship over the last few months is would be… combative.


This is a painful topic for me and I therefore have no wish to dwell on it.  I am simply going to detail a couple of ‘milestones’ in order that you may better understand why current relations are strained.


  1. I finally got to the end of what I thought were all post-parent mends in late February.  The car was clean and shiny and sitting in her customary spot.  Then, about two or three days later, my number one mechanic (Sarrah) came to me and said that part of my payment (one $100 bill) for the work was illegitimate as the notes I gave him were fake.  I was baffled as I’d got them straight from the bank, but he maintained that it was definitely me who had given him the fake note.  I planned to go to the bank to complain, but then just thought I should check that the serial number of the note he’d given me back matched one of those I’d recently taken from the bank.  It did not.  Sarrah, who I had trusted and always given a little too much money to in the hope that he’d stay loyal and make himself available when I needed him, had tried to trick me out of $100. I felt absurdly hurt.  I have not, needless to say, used him again.  (I do realise that this is not technically Olive’s fault, but it is part of the whole car saga and I therefore vaguely resent her for it.)
  2. St Patrick’s Day weekend:  I tricked my boyfriend into camping on the beach with me (I sprung the suggestion on him and demanded a yes/no answer to the plan before he had the chance to realise that this would involve him missing several important sporting events; I then made it quite clear what the penalty would be for attempting to reschedule our firm appointment in favour of said orgy of male bonding…).  We had decided to visit Bau Bau, which is one of the lesser know (and therefore less visited) beaches.  I might blog about this at some future moment; for our current purpose it will suffice to note that having driven two miles down horrible dirt roads from the ‘main’ road I had just exited my vehicle when the ‘caretaker’ of the beach asked me to move it.  Grant got in to do so and… the battery was dead.  100% flat.  Oh good.  We were forced to walk and then hitchhike back to Freetown (the next morning; I wasn’t going to let Grant use this as an excuse to watch 30 men kick and carry a stupidly shaped ball around for 80 minute), and I then sent my mechanic with a new battery to pick her up later that week.
  3. The following weekend we went to an early morning church service in Regent (a village about 40 minutes drive from town), and then planned to go on to buy fabric from Waterloo (a little town a little way from east Freetown), go to visit the Polio workshop to check on belt buckles (Grant has hired them to make a large number for his African print belt business) and then head back to town.  Unfortunately, as we departed from Regent I noticed that my window was making a constant faint whirring noise.  It would not close.  Now it is simply note sensible to leave one’s vehicle whilst the window is open… there’s not MUCH worth stealing in Olive but a wannabe thief could easily make off with the battery (which was brand new – see 2).  I was torn; I was entirely loath to stay in the hot and sweaty car while Grant went and bought up the finest fabrics in the land, but I was also keen to get home (which would require avoiding car theft).  We compromised by ‘hiring’ (for about a dollar) a random guy to watch the car.   He was honest, thank goodness.
  4.  (On the way home I was forced to do a U-turn to avoid an oncoming procession, and was promptly stopped by a policeman with an eye for a fast buck – about 20 other people were doing the exact same thing but his sudden zeal for doing his job properly in my case can be explained by the fact that I was white and in a particularly underprivileged part of town.  He got into the vehicle and demanded I drove to the police station where there would be ‘big problems for me’.  I thought he was being serious (rather than trying to get me to bribe him) and promptly burst into tears.  (It was REALLY hot ok.  And I was tired and overwrought from driving through the terrifying centre of town for the first time.)  At which point various passers-by started shouting at the policeman to leave me alone.   An old lady who just hissed ‘for shame’ was my particular favourite.  He eventually rather shamefacedly exited and apologised.  There are advantages to being female and extremely pathetic…  I plan to use the ‘waterworks’ tactics regularly in future (Note to Self: NOT at work.  Not professional.).  I’m actually yet to pay a bribe, which is something I’m rather proud of.)
  5. The following weekend I had my first entirely incident-less drive (to the beach and back) and decided to (temporarily) retire Olive in that high note.  I allowed her about three weeks rest, and then, last weekend, decided that she might be in need of exercise and therefore that Grant, Sarah and I would use her to get to and from Sugarloaf mountain.  I confidently and affectionately approached her around 7am that Sunday morning, only to find that someone, during her 2 weeks of rest, she had got a puncture.  Yup, she had somehow managed to get a completely flat tyre by… not moving.   I would admire her if I didn’t hate her SO MUCH.
  6. In affixing the new tyre Abdul (my new mechanic) noticed that there is a leak in the transmission fluid.  Which is still being fixed. 


I am partially mollified by the fact that Freetown is currently in the grips of a severe fuel crisis (there were literally hundreds of cars outside some petrol stations yesterday) and I therefore would not be able to drive even if she was fully functional.


Be not alarmed, dear readers, but I have recently reached a difficult conclusion.  Olive and I will be parting ways.  I am tired of her unpredictability.  I am tired of her sulkiness.  I am tired of her tendency to have fits at crucial moments.  I am tired of the fact that she does not appreciate all that I do for her.  We’ve had fun and I don’t (often) regret having had her as part of my life, but it’s over.  (I realise, rereading this, that I should henceforth have more sympathy for the poor unfortunate chaps dating most of my female friends.  Not myself.  OBVIOUSLY.).


On an entirely unrelated note:  Should anyone in Sierra Leone be looking for a reliable, smart Pathfinder Jeep with an impeccable history then do get in touch.  I just happen to know of one for sale.  Very reasonable price.   Any offers?  No?