Monthly Archives: December 2013

Northern Ireland – Travel writing.

Standard

I first entered the Wee North when I had just turned one. The Troubles were raging with no sign of abating. The Hunger Strikes were in progress and nationalist feeling was running very high. Even SDLP supporters who eschewed violence were mostly furious at the British Government. Their fury was of course misdirected. They should have aimed their bile at the terrorists, loyalist and republican, who had brought the North of Ireland to this bloody impasse. But as nationalists would have it, Ireland had been bifurcated by the fiat of Great Britain and this would not do. A million Unionists must be forced to join an impoverished virtual theocracy that had an official language that Unionists could not speak – and that was that.

We drove across the border from Donegal. This was part of valedictory Grand Tour of Ireland. We visited Derry. Of the Maiden City I have not the faintest recollection at that stage in the game. We may have paid a fleeting visit to Fermanagh’s county town, being Enniskillen.

Latterly we drove to other places,among them Belfast.

====================================================

I did not return to Northern Ireland until such time as I had turned 11 years of age. If memory serves it was December and I was in Third Form. We crossed the sea on a ferry from Great Britain. We had our copper coloured Range Rover in the hold as we wandered the upper decks on the journey from Stranraer. I had never been on such a ship and I was rather excited. The hulking great ship inched away from the quayside. The pure white foam bubbled up pleasingly as seagulls cawed overhead. The decks were full of hubbub – of harsh Glaswegian tones and bouncy Belfast burrs. The red black swirly carpets were encrusted in countless beer stains and cigarette fumes reeked from the worn upholstery.

It was a cool and overcast day as usual. There were many neon lit and blaring arcade games. I shook down my father for coins to play these mindless jangling games.

I fell in with a group of other prepubescents. Some were English it seemed and some from Northern Ireland. The word ”wee” was mentioned and some long-haired boy, younger than myself, with a pukka English accent turned to me and asked if that meant small. I confirmed that he was correct.

I overheard some dispute. A man in his 30s wearing a footer jersey spoke to his son in a patent Northern Ireland accent, ”so who was the man who sat on you?” The man walked purposefully and rapidly – there was anger in his gait. There had been a disagreement about whose chair it was and a grown man had sat on a boy deliberately. I never saw the outcome of that contretemps.

After two hours or so we docked at Larne. Down to the noisy car decks and into our luggage laden vehicle. We drove out of the characterless town of Larne. It may seem an unkind thing to say about it bearing in mind that I have only ever whizzed through that borough. But all the same that is the notion I got of the place. It is the smallest town I ever saw to have tower blocks.

We stopped at a filling station on a hill leading up, out of the town of Larne. There we got petrol. I had long been indoctrinated by my parents with a nationalist version of the Northern Ireland conflict. The Catholic community were presented as being the downtrodden poor who were barbarously mistreated by baying loyalist bigots. In the usual heuristic childish fashion I swallowed all my parents attitudes. I later considered saying that we were refused service at a petrol station on account of our being Catholics. This was of course utterly bogus. How would they have known we were Roman Catholics anyhow? My parents southern Irish accents would have meant that there was a 95% chance that we were Catholics. Such is the desire to lie all for the good of the cause. Naturally such mendacity must exist on the Unionist side as well. I had not yet developed the intellectual curiosity and the independence of mind to question such narratives for myself. Nor was I well enough versed in the history of the place to arrive at a more considered judgment of the situation.

My mood was to be on the defensive, to feel wronged, victimised.

We drove to Belfast. There my father slowed the car to ask directions from young men for Malone Road. This name  Malone was distinctly Irish: even identifiably Catholic. Was it not dangerous to let this word pass one’s lips there?  That is what I cogitated at the time. The youths directed us and we got there. There was a 3 m high metal fence and we drove in and parked.   Could it be so dangerous that such a fence was needful? The hotel was bright, a couple of storeys tall and very modern but uninspiring. It was almost like an upmarket  Travelodge.

Up in the room a documentary was on about the Mughal Emperors. My mother and I watched as an Englishman recounted how the Emperor Aurangzeb had fought his relatives for the paramount position in India.

Next day we had a little time in the centre of Belfast. We parked not far off Donegall Square. This is the principal square of the city. Those of you familiar with Irish Geography will be aware that the county Dongeal has but one ‘l’ at the end. This square takes a double ‘l’ at the end because the land there was once owned by the Marquess of Donegall. That family spelt the word with two ‘l’s at the end. Thus places in Belfast that are named after that family have a double ‘l’.

It was a grey day though not too cold. We surveyed the mighty Belfast City Hall. The British Flag fluttered in the bracing breeze off Belfast Lough. My father stood with his head slightly inclined to one side and his arms folded looking sour. Above City Hall hung a white banner with unmissable words in black:” Ulster Says No to a United Ireland.” The Anglo-Irish Agreement had been not long before. This was a very small step in the right direction. Mrs Thatcher, the British Prime Minister, and the Taoiseach Dr. Garret FitzGerald had tried to improve relations and move closer to consensus on Northern Ireland. Unionists had been enraged at this apparent undermining of their position. They felt that they were being nudged out of the United Kingdom. That is why they hoisted this banner with a trademark uncompromising slogan above City Hall. This was why the nationalist in my father was sulky. We saw an RUC vehicle – it was an armoured car. The Land Rover had flaps right down to the ground to stop people shoving logs under it to stop it. There was chicken wire over the windscreen. My father told me how only 8% of the RUC were Catholics. The implication being that it was dreadful that this figure was so paltry. The resentment on his face was palpable. I internalised all these sentiments and replicated them in exaggerated measure. It did not occur to me at the time to inquire why there being so few Catholics in the RUC was a bad thing? Did he want more to join or not? If they joined they were vilified as traitors by republicans and indeed top d of the death list and if Catholics did not join then the RUC was vilified for not having enough Catholics. So republicans created a problem and then complained about it.

From there we drove to the border. Near the border we really had to slow down. The British Army was there in force. Soldiers in combat fatigues padded along the hard shoulder carrying their weapons with the barrels pointing a little below shoulder height? The traffic was crawling but there was no tension abroad. My father was at the wheel. We neared a checkpoint where cars were being stopped and cursorily checked. Then my mother put her foot on the gas and we lurched forward a few metres before she slowed the car. ”Are you trying to get us killed?” shrieked my father. The week before some youngsters in a car had tried to drive through a checkpoint. The soldiers thought they were being attacked and they shot. Both people in the car were killed. The soldiers had reason to be jumpy. My mother screeched her protests of it being an honest mistake. We got out alive!

======================================================

We passed through Northern Ireland on the same route only three weeks later.

I think we even did the same return journey a year later

========================================

I was 18 when I crossed the border with my friend Thomas. I had become fixated with the politics and history of Northern Ireland. Over the previous two years I had devoured all reading materials on Northern Ireland that I could get my hands on. I had become what in schoolboy terms would be an authority on the subject – not that anyone would want to hear my views on it. I had come to see that the British and Irish identities need not be antipathetical. The nationalist account of affairs that I had been told was not all true or fair. There was another side to the story. I had come to largely reject the nationalist narrative and especially the republican version of events that the British Government had committed the most insupportable acts of oppression there. Nationalist narratives are protean and not all of what was said was specious. There had been denominational discrimination in both directions. The fact that it was in both directions is willfully overlooked by most nationalists. There had certainly been many ghastly crimes committed by loyalist terrorists. I had certainly familiarised myself with the republican account of the conflict. I was surely the only Unionist at the time to be a regular reader of An Phoblacht – the newspaper of Sinn Fein. Sinn Fein whined that Ireland had been fractured by partition – a partition that Michael Collins and the majority of the Dail Eireann had voted for. Every last one of them in the Dail had been Sinn Feiners at the time. I had examined the historical record and reviewed what I had been told to believe.  I read veraciously and became very well-informed on this vexatious topic. The republican narrative seemed ever more frayed. Likewise, I say that loyalist lore was also flawed. Moreover, loyalists did not look much beyond the 17th century. The jaded old wheeze runs that as you land in Belfast Airport over the tannoy an announcement blares, ”Please adjust your watches to local time – 1690.” I found myself thinking ”it ain’t necessarily so”. Republicans were falsifiers of the chronicles. No one I ever met in Northern Ireland was groaning under any misgovernment.

 

I found the Troubles almost fun. It was idiotic of me. It was a sordid chapter in history by any sensible reckoning. There were many indiscriminate bombings.

We were on an Ulsterbus from Dundalk. It tickled me that Northern Ireland could not even have buses – they had to be Ulsterbuses. From Dundalk the flat land rapidly rose up into wild hills. Summer bloomed her uberous best and the flowers gloried in their variegated colours. Clumps of coniferous trees had full and verdant canopies. The lush fields were dotted with bushes and copses. Fir trees covered the thinner soil of slopes on the craggy, dark green hills.

I felt a thrill of danger and taboo breaking crossing the frontier. The fact that Ireland was bisected by this border evoked no feelings of resentment or anger in me. This was the area known as Bandit Country – it was the very furnace of Irish republicanism. I saw the British Army towers that dotted the rough hillsides. These metal towers were called sangars and had some metal netting on them to defeat rockets that might be fired. So far as I know no sangar was ever pulverised by an IRA rocket so I suppose the netting was doing its job effectually. Deep purple heather lined the hillsides and scree lay scattered at the foot of every rugged hill. The varied topography resembled a very badly rumpled carpet with plenty of gulleys. Bruised clouds gathered in the June sky.

I heard the moustache wearing bus driver chatting to his friend. Both were both short and podgy middle aged men from Northern Ireland and I surmised Catholics. I was fixated with guessing someone’s religious denomination in that part of the world. The driver was lamenting that he had been blackguarded by a colleague who has reported, ”Callaghan’s lying.” I do not recall the upshot of this tale of woe and mistreatment.

A weedy grey haired old man sat in the seat in front of us. He turned his wizen face around to us and engaged us in conversation. He was plainly not the full shilling. On mature reflection he may have been inebriated though I did not detect the odour of strong waters on him. There was something child-like about this deeply wrinkled, silver haired buffoon. He asked Thomas, ”What sort of boy are you?” Thomas replied bemused, ”An ordinary sort of boy.” When we had got off the bus Thomas later said he had assumed that this coffin dodger was inquiring as to his religious affiliation. It was ironic since a week earlier Thomas’ mother had been ordained a priest in the Episcopalian Church so there was no doubt which side of the Tiber he was on. In fact Thomas was never a fervent Christian of any kind and he was certainly not possessed of any prejudice on the issue.

The old helicopter roared by overhead to the sangars. The Army moved troops in and out by chopper because in South Armagh they were so frequently attacked usually by roadside bombs.

It was early evening when the bus dropped us off at Newry before it continued to Belfast. There was still plenty of light and the sky was no longer so occluded. Several other passengers alighted. We put on out rucksacks and walked out of the bus station and into this middle sized town. In typical idiotic fashion we had no idea where we were headed.  I randomly picked a route and we walked. There buildings were something bare grey stone and sometimes plaster covered house painted brightly. No building was especially tall. Soon we were going out of town and along a fairly busy road. We passed under a road bridge and I saw graffiti about ”Remember Kenny” – I took it as an allusion to Kenneth Lennon – an IRA man who began to give secrets to the security forces. He was shot dead and his body was dumped outside the perimeter fence of Gatwick Airport. It was a threat to anyone who might try to bring peace. I told Thomas about this. We began to see signs on the lamp posts with the black silhouette of a hooded gunman and the legend ”Sniper at work”. This gallows humour was a jibe at the expense of the Army. IRA sniper teams had shot several soldiers in recent years – in all but one case these shootings were fatal. The last man to have been shot to death was killed by a single bullet a bit over a year before – Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick. Coincidentally I came across a memorial to him in his native Peterborough a few years later quite by chance. I had not the faintest notion that that was his home town. I found the ”sniper at work” signs amusing which was perhaps a little wrong of me. The sign was indicative of simmering republican sentiment. My rucksack had no strap around my gut and the weight began to tell as the shoulder straps dug into the flesh. We were adolescents and in good shape so the exercise was not too strenuous for us. Looking back on it I wonder what motorists must have made of us? Who are these two daft boys walking miles with backpacks on? Are they spies? Why would someone do that? Surely a spy would be more subtle. We were not going to be confronted by gunmen, trussed up and abducted for torture before being awarded an OBE – One Behind the Ear. My obsession with the Northern Ireland dispute made me especially confident on that point. There had been a ceasefire in place for over a year and the Good Friday Agreement had just been signed.

We seemed not to be getting any nearer to a campsite or a farm. I saw to our right a, Irish Tricolour flag and some stone memorial. The sign announcing the name of this village said ”Camlough.” We passed a GAA pitch. We decided to ask someone for a suggestion. We turned off the main road and onto a stony botharin turning up a gentle hillside. We arrived at a small white bungalow  flanked by some poorly tended bushes and knocked on the door. A middle aged man with a thick dark brown handlebar moustache favoured in that region came to the door and greeted us. The palpable lack of suspicion in him was admirable. We asked if he could think of anywhere for us to pitch our tent and would anyone object if we pitched it on the GAA field. ”Um”, he said pensively, stroking his moustache and letting the bristles flick back up, ”you could go further down there’s a field” and he pointed. We thanked him and moved on back down to the main road and further in whichever direction we were going – we had no idea. It all seems so daft now. Remember there was no internet back then and information was not come by instantly. A minute later we heard footsteps as someone ran behind us. A black haired girl of about ten in welly boots ran up behind us and gave us other directions her father had later thought to add. We thanked her profusely and she gave us an embarrassed smile – aw shucks.

We walked on a little further along the main road lined with numerous coppices and decided to inquire at another house. Darkness encroached and we would have to bed down sometime soonish. Quite at random we went towards a handsome and spacious two storey house. We rapped on the door – it was probably me who did the knocking since I am the more garrulous of the twain and this holiday was my suggestion. A short, stout man came to the door. This clean-shaven man was almost elderly. He had carefully brushed short hair and wore a beige suit. He looked wan and concerned. He answered our question about a place to pitch our tent very deliberately. As we thanked him and turned down the garden path he made some remark about us having to be careful. He was plainly anxious about our safety.

We walked on a few hundred metres on the olive green land beside the road. Then a car pulled up beside us. A slender woman of about 50 sat in the car and told us to come back to her house. We had spoken to her husband she explained and we could camp in the garden. We accepted the offer with alacrity. She had boyishly short blonde hair drove us back. Soon we were ensconced in the kitchen and treated to tea and a snack. We chatted happily and were very relaxed. This woman and her husband were exceptionally kind and welcoming. I quipped that our tent was orange on one side and green on the other and we would put it up inside out if needs be depending on the politics of the district. This possibly controversial witticism met a kindly response. We then went to put up our tent in the back garden. I remarked that we had seen the flagpole and some stone memorial area, ”Is that for Raymond McCreesh?” I asked undiplomatically. The woman of the house handled the situation beautifully ”Ah you are into the history.” I had an unfortunate compulsion to broach the most tendentious topics. People in Northern Ireland get by through not bringing up the conflict. Ray McCreesh was a man from that village who had starved himself to death in 1981 at the aged of 24. I did not know at the time but his brother was the parish priest.

The woman of the house was a nurse. Soon we met her daughter who was in her late 20s. She had black hair and was recently married. She too was a nurse. We were told we could sleep in the room of their two younger daughters who were in America for the summer.

Later the man of the house drove us to a nearby pub. It was quite busy and we downed a few pints. In my cups I confessed to him I was worried that with my short hair I would be taken for a soldier. He chortled at that. This being a strongly republican there were surely a few IRA supporters in the pub but no one showed the least hostility towards us despite me having the same accent as a British officer.

Next day we had a photo taken with the mother and daughter. The daughter then drove us to the bus station in Newry

Later we sent them a postcard from Belfast. Moronically it was of loyalist murals. They clearly did not take it as a sleight because they posted me my towel in September. I must have left it in the bedroom. Their daughter must have found it upon their return from the USA.

===================

We took the bus to Belfast. I noticed the bus drivers flashing their lights at each other in salutation. It was a blazing hot day. We found our way from the bus station to Stranmillis Road. We passed Methodist College Belfast. Some pupils were inside in civvies. I made eyes at a pretty girl and she reacted pleasantly.

We fetched up at the house. The old couple greeted us joyfully – I had never met them before. They were friends of Thomas’ parents and also the parents of my former teacher.

We sat in their drawing room and conversed easily. The man was very slim as was his wife. He asked me ”what religion are you?” I asked him to guess but I do not think he did. I told him truthfully. Thomas later said he thought me asking the man to guess was rude.  We slept in a bedroom upstairs.

We walked around the city centre. It was scintillating. The place was all in very good shape and by the standards of a city it was pin clean.

We went to a chippy called the finger and thumb in the Sandy Row area. I knew this to be a notorious cauldron of loyalism – I had read this in Brendan Behan’s oeuvre. A red haired teenaged waitress served us. She was very nubile. I heard a drum outside beat a loud tattoo. I hoped to see an Orange band clatter along the street. We went outside later and sadly no drummer was there. I admired the many loyalist murals. Most memorable among them was the one with silhouettes of soldiers from the First World War in their tin hats and with bayonets fixed charging among the gaps in the barbed wire on the Western Front. There was also the memorial the slain UDA Brigadier John McMichael. He was blown up by an IRA bomb under his car in 1988. This was one of the few good day’s work that the IRA has ever done. McMichael’s outfit murdered dozens of Catholics who were not in the IRA and claimed these crimes in the name of the Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Another time Thomas and I walked to the Shankill Road. This is a cockpit of loyalism. At the foot of the road was an RUC vehicle with a bat eared policeman outside it. He chatted to us and looked us up and down. He was about thirty, average height and spare. He came across as a very respectable sort of person. He was amicable but faintly suspicious asking us what we were doing here. He will have taken us for English. A soldier crouched beside him and looked around – another soldier was in the bushes. To protect the RUC from being killed by the IRA they would go out with a few soldiers.  One of the soldiers spoke to us a little and thoughtfully suggested we join the army. Trouble was expected and I said to him, ”have fun.” This blundering attempt at mirth met no response. Later Thomas said, ”Will you quit it with the funnies?”

On the Shankill Road there were numerous murals declaring the residents’ implacable hostility to the IRA. Their British identity was stated in the most over the top manner with a sickly portrait of the recently deceased Princess Diana.

Saturday came and that evening we headed towards a nightclub called the Eglington. We passed a church and there were a couple of girls maybe a year or two younger than us. I suggested going to speak to them. Thomas, despite wanting to be an actor, was hesitant. I had courage borne of sexual desperation and approached them with utmost confidence. The taller one with black hair and in a blue silk dress responded eagerly. They had been in a disco and it was crap but they might go to the Eglington later. She asked where I was from and I told her Berkshire since I had spent five years there. She said she liked my accent and I returned the compliment. She said she loathed her accent.  I reasoned that we would be around for about 10 days so enough time to make progess with those girls. In fact we did not see them again.

I almost did a double take as I recognised the hotel from seven years earlier. In my young life seven years are an incredibly long stretch of time. We went into a pub and put away a few pints. The news was on but the pub was so noisy that it was impossible to hear what the newscaster was saying so it was pointless having the box on. The flickering and colour just allured the eye and made conversation tricky.

In the nightclub they played ”sex on the beach” and ”she is the belle of Belfast City” and ”The Tamperer.” As they played ”Sex on the beach” by the vengaboys I inwardly sang ”sex in my life – once in my life.” I hated being a virgin and was sworn to rid myself of this shame as soon as possible.

 

We got chatting to two girls a bit older than us. In fact we made eye contact and one approached ”Do you like my friend? Talk to her.” Kirstin was a Swedish student and had dirty blonde hair – not that it was unhygienic but that described the tint. Kirstin was reasonably good looking but the main attraction so far as I was concerned was that she had a vagina. She had acquired a total Belfast accent.  Her pal I shall called Eimear since I cannot recall her name. Eimear was  Belfastie and somewhat chubby with badly done fake tan and long dark hair. One had to shout into their ears because the music was so strong.  It turned out that Kirstin’s boyfriend had dumped her that day so Eimear was keen for Kirstin to get some jollies on the rebound. Thomas was looking unsure of himself as he usually does. I even managed to discuss the political situation with Eimear – asking her which side in the conflict I sympathised with. She said the nationalists because most outsiders do. I told them I was English since that was plausible.

Things were going well for us but I do not recollect snogging them in the packed and sweaty club. I optimistically purchased johnnies in the club. The third ever time I had done that. They invited us to their place! This was looking good. As we got into the taxi I handed Thomas a condom.

I was elated to be going up the Falls in their house in a black taxi. We got out at the Beechmount area and Thomas stupidly said, ”We are dead.” I was not in the least worried. I do not think they heard his faux pas. We sat in the drawing room and had some beer. I got to kiss Kirstin there when the others were elsewhere and my hands floundered over her buxom chest. I do not think that Thomas got off with Eimear. She worked as a PA for the bus company. She told me she had once been engaged to a Provo and was an ardent supporter of theirs. Eimear complained bitterly about the RUC removing protestors, ”trying to stop those Orange bastards walked down their street.” She did however approve of the peace process. They played some music for me to boogy to and I did. They also played us a song called Grace which is a whingeing republican ballad about Grace Gifford. She wed Joseph Plunkett just minutes before he was executed by firing squad. This is supposed to be a plangent tale – in fact they were fortunate to be permitted to marry. Plunkett had just been a doyen of the Easter Rising – a totally unjustified act of massive violence against the wishes of most people in Ireland. He had shattered the growing solidarity between unionists and nationalists. Hundreds of people had been killed and surely some among them were engaged. They would never marry but Plunkett would.

 

They asked us to guess their ages. They were both 24. There was a Portuguese upstairs named Patricia whom we briefly met.

 

The long and the short of it was we did not get to bang them and slept in the drawing room. It was an unforgettable experience.

 

Not long after dawn we got up and Eimear came out with us to find us a taxi back. A short man in his mid 20s took an instant dislike to me on the street. ”What are you trying to look like Rambo for?” I had drawn myself up to my full height – rather more than his. I hardly looked at him. I was not afraid. I am not at all gallant but in that particular episode I really was not worried. We walked away down the street. Then a bottle crashed beside us. ”Ah” screeched Eimear, ”he is throwing bottles” and we ran on. None of the missiles hit us.

We came to a goitrous eyed RUC officer on the street. Eimear verbally abused him for not intervening about the bottle throwing. I thought republicans did not want the RUC to come to the Falls or ever enforce the law? There is no pleasing republicans. They always want it both ways. The RUC officer ignored us and stood with his hands tucked into his bullet proof vest. He was supremely self assured because behind him was an army armoured land rover. Two soldiers with helmets on looked out of the roof hatch. Eimear then treated them to a torrent of swear words. I did not know what to think and felt very tranquil. The RUC officer then got into the vehicle and as it pulled off both the soldiers spat at me. One of them scored a hit on my chest. I was surprised but oddly I was not at all offended. Eimear had severely provoked them. I had done nothing at all but they associated me with them. I did recognise that if I grew up in the Falls and this sort of them happened to me oftentimes then I would bear a grudge. Perhaps I was sychophantic towards the British Army in not being upset that I had been spat on. That spittle did not come out easily. They must have agreed to spit at the very last moment when the land rover began to purr away. My indifference to this was maybe self-degrading. I thought it a rich irony that at school I had been in the Cadet Force – a schoolboy military training club – and now soldiers of the army that had trained me had spat on me. In fact I was not a utile schoolboy soldier in the least.

We got home by taxi about 7 am and slipped in.

 

We claimed to have got home the night before. The man said he heard something about 7 in the morning and surely did not believe us. He did not mind though.

Later we went to a Presbyterian Church.

In the sermon the minister denounced the irreligion of burning Catholic churches. He also mentioned his uncle who had gone into action in the Somme for the last time wearing his Orange sash. He further stated that it was possible for a good Christian to vote yes or no to the Good Friday Agreement.

 

============================

We went on a few day trips by bus. Train was more expensive so we eschewed it.

====================

 

 

 

 

Pornifying normal film titles

Standard

In my younger and less immature days my chum and I used to take mainstream film titles and then refashion them into the titles of imaginary porno pictures.That mate of mine, named Ray Flag, is not a laywer of some reputation.

 Lock, Cock and two choking mammals

Schindler’s Fist

End of Gays

The world is not a muff

Goldfinger (needs no changing)

The Merry Wives of Windsor – Shakespeare got it right first time

As you like it – ditto

Forest Hump

Sperminator

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Wanker

Shaving Ryan’s privates – already done

Brave Tart

Angels’s gashes

 

 

Chad. Travel writing. Completed.

Standard

I was ten years old. My sister and I flew from North Britain to Paris. There we had a few hours in Charles de Gaulle Airport. When it was built in the 1970s this was considered the height of modernity. The space aged escalator tubes through a central space were revolutionary. The underground tunnels to the podules off the main building were also innovative. After 20 years the dark brown concrete was ageing – badly. THE Air France hostesses strutted around with an unmistakable air of self-assurance. To be a Frenchwoman was to be desirable and to be an air stewardess was to be the most desirable of all. In fairness they looked as they should.

We were flying Air Afrique. It is now defunct. My sibling and I dossed around the plastic rows of chairs. A slim and smartly dressed French boy of about 15 was there. Not one of his light brown hairs was amiss. He exuded the composure so typical of his nation. We conversed with him in our bad French. He lived in Bangui which is the capital of the Central African Republic. That city is pronounced ”BANG-ee” – make that a hard ‘G’. I used to say ”Bang – oo -ee”. He was heading back to this former French colony. The Central African Republic is to the south of Chad.

The time came for my sister and I to board the passenger plane. It was fairly full. Most of the passengers were black. The men mostly wore Western clothes but the women mostly wore African raiment. These print patterns were multicoloured but sober. I found myself wedged in between two great hipped women. These being the days when smoking was allowed anywhere especially in the Francosphere it was a minor mercy that few people around wished to light up.

The flight took only a few hours and I do not remember any great emotion and perhaps oddly I was not in the least anxious. We landed in the middle of the night but it was still warm. I do not recall having unaccompanied minor status. Down the steps of the plane – no air bridge in a place like Ndjamena. The engines of the plane were still screaming. A plump faced black man in a T-shirt, jeans and a baseball cap asked me in excellent English, ”Are you Kenneth?” I answered yes with a big smile. He told me he had the same name and since I was the fourth to bear that name in Chad I would be Kenneth 4. He was Mr Mneepa. He was a very amiable Chadian who worked for my father’s company. How had he identified us as he had no photo? There cannot have been many or perhaps any white children of the same age on the plane.

We stepped into the terminal building. It was one of the smallest I had ever seen for an International Airport. It was fairly tall and the walls were whitewashed. Cave paintings decorated the interior. Very soon we were out and met my parents. The greeted us with customary elation. Dawn was breaking. The land was a light brown as the mist rose and acacia trees and thorn bushes dotted the flattish terrain. We drove through deserted and potholed streets. There were numberless stained white buildings and debris aplenty lay outside them. Many were pock-marked by bullet holes and some were plainly abandoned.  I do not wish to belittle this nation but it is very poor. No building was over five storeys high. The roads were very straight and there were plenty of roundabouts. Many of the roads were unpaved. Some of the earth was red-orange. We drew up at large double gates. A guard let us in. He was black like about 99.9% of the people in the country. This is no overstatement. From now on if I do not mention colour take it as read that those I write about are black.

There was a large bungalow surrounded by a lush garden. A peacock wandered around his plumage proudly bared. We went up the two steps and into the marble floored house. We were shown to our rooms and collapsed into bed.

I came around a few hours later to the whooshing of the fan. I tottered out for something to eat.

There was a houseboy named Hissein. This ‘boy’ was older than my father. There was nothing disparaging about this title boy – it was just what male servants were called. Hissein was of the Hadjerai tribe from the centre of the country. Like the majority of Chadians he was a Muslim and like most Muslims in this part of the country he was easygoing about his faith. Hissein was cheeful and slender. He had close cropped hair with a reverned patina of gray. He wore no beard. He was a good cook but his pizza came out more like pie. One of his favourite dishes to make was mousakka.

Occasionally he was assisted by another manservant named Alphonse who was much younger. My mother surmised that his named indicated that he was a Christian. Hissein was a Muslim but there was no animus between people of different faiths.

There was a pool outside and I daily took a dip. It was hot outside but not quite infernally so. We were staying in the house of my father’s boss, Fred. Fred was then away on holiday.

Fred was a German-American from an affluent family. His grandfather has been an Episcopalian bishop. Fred had grown up in Haiti where his grandfather had his diocese. Episcopalian prelates in those days lived in considerable style. Being a religious doyen no doubt gave this man enormous standing in the community. Let us not beat around the bush. Haiti was a former slave country and the whites had held the whip hand over the black majority. This seemed to give whites a status over a century after the evil of slavery was abolished. The Haitians were the only people to defeat slavery by their own valour. They might have felt detestation for whites but this seemed not to be the case. Haiti was a former French colony and here Fred had become fluent in the French language. Fred had been tended to by teams of servants as a toddler. Some of the conceit that had come from this had never left him. He went to Yale and served in the Marine Corps. He had worked for various US companies in difficult countries such as Laos. He had been wed to a white American woman and had two sons by her. He had divorced her and was now hitched to a Thai woman named Dao. Dao was exceptionally tall for her race. They had a teenage daughter.

My first day in Chad I felt very upbeat and I thanked my parents for bringing me to this fascinating place.  My sister, by contrast, was unmindful of the possible benefits of being in such a place such as a golden opportunity to improve her French. My mother remarked that Prunella’s friends would be envious of her living in such a country as this. My sister scoffed – who could possibly be jealous of living in a dirt poor country. My mother recalled that when she was a teenager she was jealous of her cousins living in Uganda. Prunella was already determined to find her time there a tribulation.

We were some distance from the compound where my father worked. We would only ever go by car. This was not a dangerous city but if a white walked outside of certain shopping streets he or she would be accosted by hordes of panhandlers. Chad was among the poorest countries in the world. It had cotton and that was about its only export. Oil had recently been discovered and the Chadian Government was very eager to make the most of this.

The compound was made up of an office block about 5 storeys high. My father;s clinic was in there as well as several accountant’s offices. There were several villas for the staff. There was a tennis court. There was also a swimming pool.

People often drove around in pokey old French cars which did very well on the bockety roads. These cars were a grey-brown and looked so unfashionable. It is bizarre that people such as the French who are so attentive to the visual should have such unprepossessing automobiles.

I met Chadians there and very few of them spoke English. I had to speak French. The dissymetery in wealth between the whites and almost all Chadians was vast. My father discouraged us from thinking about this. It was too dispiriting.

Almost everything we ate was imported from France. I improved my French by reading the cereal boxes. These informed me about the French Revolution. The bicentenary had been the year before.

We went to the Chagoua stables sometimes. This was several miles outside Ndjamena by the River Chari. We would pass a hodgepodge of rackety huts. This drive was a reminder that almost everyone outside of Ndjamena was engaged in the culture of the soil. This was scrub and scratching a livelidhood from the meagre fertility cannot have been easy. Just off the unpaved road there were several buildings included a dining verandah and kitchen. A score or so of horses had their stables around a paddock. There were plenty of ostlers. The place was run by a white Frenchman named Denis. Denis had lived in Chad his whole life and his brief visits to France made him feel uncomfortable in what was officially his country. He had been born in Chad. His white-haired father was still around but left the management of the stables to Denis. Denis was a white Chadian in many ways. His face was tanned to a copper colour by constant exposure to the sun. He wore French clothes but apart from that was more at home with the Chadians. He spoke the local language as well as French. Naturally he knew not a word of English. I noticed he preferred to socialise with Chadians. When whites gathered at the stables for a casual Sunday lunch he hung around the edges. He made forays into the white world but would mostly go and sit with the stable boys and chat avidly in their language; exchanging quips.

I recall my father speaking with an American woman and a French couple. My father’s French was very weak and his American friend was translating for him. My father’s impromptu disquisition was on California. ”You think there are two sexes? Go to California. There are many!” The slender American lady chortled before translating this wry remark for the benefit of the old French couple who found it mirthful.

The French people there often alluded to the Chadians as ”les negres”. My French was poor at that stage. I used to say this work – on my innocence. A couple of years later I went on French exchange and freely used this word. The mother of my family there has to tell me that this word was abusive. The word is ”noir”. Nowadays one says the English word ”black” even when speaking French. The word I had been saying ”negre” is equivalent to the ”N” word in English. Presumably some of the white French in Chad still harboured a racialist attitude.

I would often go riding at Chagoua stables. My sister would come too. Denis would be off in front riding beside a groom. Denis wore his customary jeans and denim shirt. He would be recounting hilarious stories in a local language. Many people there spoke Tedagah or Dezagah. The stable boys’ French was as limited as my own. I recall once going on a hack with him not far from the riverbank. We rode up over eminences and down sudden gulleys. These sandy depressions were rivers in the rainy season. I was getting to know more French words and was able to converse with him. There were some poor Chadians pounding millet in large wooden bowls outside their mud hitmen. Denis then shouted something excitedly to them in a  Chadian language. I was puzzled. A young Chadian man ran over to a hillock and took a stick. He began stabbing it into the earth and a friend came over a joined him. Within a few seconds he had dug out a gargantuan lizard. It was the largest legged retitle I had ever seen. He and the friend grabbed it and took it back towards their house. It must have been 50 cm long. Denis explained they were going to eat it. Denis has spotted its spoor and I had not.

The grooms would sometimes ask us to take their photo. My father has a polaroid and could give these boys and men their image straightaway. For many of them it was the first photo of themselves they ever had.

=============================================

INTO THE COMPOUND

After a time Fred came back from the United States.  We moved out of his house and into the house of an accountant who had gone on holiday. Fred was above middle height and in his 50s. He had white hair and a point beard not unlike Satan. There the similarity began.  More will be written about that later. His wife Dao was known to Chadians as Madame Chinoise. They did not bother with her being Thai. Some of them went so far as to call Fred Monsieur Chinois. She was the only Oriental I ever saw. Her woman-to-woman conversations with my mother were revealing. ”Fred get new woman. He want young one. I no care. He give me money. Then I no care.” Perhaps this was how his first marriage had ended.

The company still had not found a house for us. We were now living in the compound. We resided in the house of a dimunutive Mauritian accountant named Mario. This man’s moustach was as big as he was. He had gone back to Mauritius on holiday where his spouse and children were. We met Mario before he left. His English was fabulous – he had no accent. This is quite impressive bearing in mind that it was likely to be his third language. Like most Mauritians he was of Indian stock. The house was a white bungalow with a few steps up at the front to try to make it trickier for snakes to sneak in. The house was not generous in space but was more than adequate. It was well furnished and everything was new.

There were no other people of our age around. There was a Moroccan accountant named Hassan. He was aged about 30 so very old so far as I thought. He was there with his wife N’jet who was a little younger than him. Hassan was smiley, short and perfectly turned out. He was clean-shaven and wore large gassed. To be bitchy, he was a touch on the geeky side. He always appeared in Western clothes. He was in every way a slightly dark-skinned Frenchman. The one thing that made him a little unusual for a Frenchman was his flawless English. He did not seem to practise Islam and was fond of a drink. His wife wore Western clothes and even shorts. She too spoke terrific English. This was very unusual for Moroccans at that time. Bear in mind that English would have been her third or even her fourth language. Their first language might have been a Berber dialect; Arabic their second and French their third. She has dark brown hair and was very good-looking, light-spirited and charming. Once their cat went missing. Three days later it was found under the house: dead. It had bloated to three times its usual size. It was surmised that it had been bitten by a snake. There were serpents around and they were the main danger to us.

Hassan and N’jet were a lovely couple. The next year we were all very pleased to hear that N’jet was pregnant. They want back to Morocco on holiday. Then my father got the news. Hassan was dead. He had died of meningitis. It was a brutal lessons in the brevity and fragility of life. Enjoy every moment. N’jet almost had a miscarriage in her grief. In the end she was safely delivered of a girl. We went back to live with Hassan’s brother. He was a more traditional sort and we feared she would not have such a free life. But her brother-in-law felt duty bound to provide for her and the little girl.

Once we went to the clinic late at night to make a phone call. We could not make international calls from the house. There was a small snake curled up asleep by the steps. We had to step over it. My father later informed the guard. The guard reported next morning that he had killed it.

I grew thoroughly bored. We went swimming in the pool. My sisters teased me cruelly. I was sometimes so despondent I would run barefoot on the hot brown pebbles.

We played tennis occasionally. I did not wish to but my parents compelled me and this annoyed me greatly.

Rainy season was coming on. Most evenings there would be a downpour. It was at such a regular time that you could set your watch by it. The heavens would open. The rainfall only lasted an hour but then torrents would gush down the streets which had pour drainage. Then a chorus of countless frogs would celebrate.

Some Sundays we would have a mishwee. This is a barbecue. We called them a goat grab since goat was the main fare. My father was an aficionado of these caprine feasts and would offer to serve. There would be Chadians at such affairs and I remember speaking to a pensive Chadian boy of my own age. He was the son of Mr Mneepa. I spoke to him in my limited French since like virtually all Chadians he spoke no English but knew two Chadian languages. I was embarrassed that he spoke three languages to me two so I bogusly claimed to speak Irish as well.

These occasions went on long into the night. These were mostly attended by Americans. These people would be from their 30s to their 50s. I remember a vivacious African-American woman named Lucette who was there. She had a raucous laugh and such lively eyes when enagaged in invariably droll conversation. My mother in particular was taken by Lucette. Lucette decided that she wanted to kiss me. I was having none of this and ran off. She ran after me cackling and claimed her prize. She later boasted that she had been on her school track team.

It was unfair on us children as we had almost no contact with other children. My father was in constant touch with the French Army who were stationed there in some numbers. The French Government believed in no shilly shallying. Francois Mitterand publicly espoused a policy of France-Afrique. Francois Mitterand was the leader of the French Socialist Party don’t  let’s forget. In other countries socialists aver anti-colonialism. Mitterand did not trouble to conceal his neo-colonialsim and maybe the French policy did some good. France had a sphere of influence in her former colonies in Africa and was not at all shy about projecting power. If any president of a French-speaking country seriously displeased Paris then a successor would be groomed. The French paratroopers would soon overthrow the recalcitrant enfant terrible. A more pliant satrap would be enthroned to take orders from the Elysee Palace. We drove past the barracks once and my father pointed it out to us. I was horrified by the hideous block of flats where the French soldiers lived. The regular French Army was there but also the French Foreign Legion.

My father decided to find a friend for my sibling. He once brought a French girl aged about 12 home as a playmate for my sister who was 13. I do not recall her name but she spoke no English at all and so my sister had to do her best in French. She was a a scrawny blone and an amiable child and of course there was the return match for my sister going to her house. My sister resented my father thinking he could select her friends. On one occasion she and my sister walked along the street and found a gang of beggars tailing them. It was not menacing – only irritating.  My father never friend to find a chum for me which was odd as there must have been an ample number of French boys of my age and I was much more eager to ameliorate my French than Prunella was.

The main shopping street was Charles de Gaulle. It says much about how close this country is to France that the main drag on the capital is name in honour of the late president of France. The street was nothing much to look at. Its main enticement for us was Place de l’Alimentation de la Concord. There were shops here where we could purchase Western – mostly French – food. This street did not strike me as being in the least minatory though I was later told there had been muggings on it.

My parents were friends with Terry. He was a shortish, bearded American diplomat. He came from Washington State and had previously been stationed in South Africa. There he had acquired himself and Afrikaner bride. Renee was a redhead who was inordinately proud of her long hair and her superpale complexion. They had no children. We went to their house for dinner. My parents and they spoke about world affairs. I was scintillated. My sister was no the intellectual types so she was utterly bored. We discussed Chad and I said how some Chadeans had ”origins far removed” from the southern elite who once dominated the country. Until the 1980s Chad had been run by southern Christians who were previously aligned with the French.

My sister arrived having decided to be despondent. She was at that stage of her life. She said she tried to sleep as much of the day as she could so as to waste it. We watched films late into the night. I saw the Day of the Jackal.

My eldest sister Geraldine came out after a while. She had arrived one blear morning too early for me to be in the welcoming committee at the airport. I had woken up at the usual hour and trotted into her room. I shook her awake and demanded she play Monopoly against me. She was recovering from her two flights and croaked that she was too drowsy to do so.

We listened to some 60s musich such as that Nancy Sinatra song. ”These boots are made for walking and that’s just what they ‘ll do cause one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you. Are you ready boots? Let’s walk. Da da da da – da da da da  – da!”. I still like that number to this day.

Years later my mother told me what had happened one night. My sisters and I were glued to the screen as some film was on. Geraldine approached my mother and mouthed the words. ”There’s a snake, there’s a snake.” The door had been left ajar and a baby snake had crept in. It was only a few centimetres long. But this would have been enough to have Prunella and I walk back to Europe if necessary! My mother grabbed tonnes of tissues and then seized the reptile behind the head. She went to the door and threw it out onto the lawn.

Sometimes we would go to the US Embassy to watch a film. Any Westerner would turn up. Security was minimal We would sit in a largish room and watch a video. Chad had no television though we could see Cameroonian television. This was long before satellite television. We saw ”Not without my daughter” and a few more such films. The US Marine Corps were there to guard the embassy. These working class boys knew nothing of the world outside the United States. Kroll’s daughter was going out with one of them. I saw beside my sister when this youth of about 20 turned to me and said, ”Is that your girlfriend?”. ”No she is my sister”, I said very plainly. Kroll’s daughter laughed in what she must have assumed was a suitably feminine and submissive manner at her beau’s wit. What an inadequate prick he was to feel obliged to humiliate a 10 year old to prove his manliness. He was supposed to be doughty. He was a soldier. In fact he was a marine but it would irk him to be called a soldier so that is what I shall do. He must have had a brittle ego after being made to feel worthless during training.

There was a decent library in the embassy.  I had a looked around it one evening. One novel caught my eye. Its title was unforgettable: ”The Bastard”. It was about a man born out of wedlock who took part in the American Revolution. I was thumbing through its yellowing pages when two Peace Corps men came in. They wore slacks, loafers and polo shirts. They introduced themselves and they asked me my name and where I was from. When I said Ireland one of them yelped with satisfaction since was an Irish-American. He extended his hand to shake it and just before I could take it he pulled back. ”Catholic, right?”. I suddenly learnt something. I answered yes and shook his paw. In later years I had reason to reflect on this incident and it revealed to me sectarianism. There is of course anti-Catholicism too.

We were due to fly to Sahr not long after we arrived to celebrate American Independence Day. For some reason the flight was cancelled. We had gone to the airport in the wee hours for that. Instead we went to the American Embassy garden party. Security was lax which was odd. The year before the US ambassador’s wife was killed when the plane she was travelling in blew up as it flew out of Chad.

About a hundred people milled around on the lawn in soaring temperatures. The broad bladed grass had a coarse and waxy texture to it. All wore casuals. There was a barbecue. There was some music playing. Terry had a game going about throwing horse shoes around a pole. Terry remarked that it was not the same as cricket. This was a game that I loathed intensely.

Terry told me that had a woeful fly infestation. The year before they had put burgers on a table just for the flies – and they took it. The flies were not being swatted there so they accepted this food.

Quite a few children ran around. About half were white and half were black. Some were African-American and some were Chadeans who had been adopted by American couples. So far as I could tell all the American families who adopted Chadean girls and boys were white.  There was one boy whose image will haunt me forever. He was lean and tall – about 12 years old. He galloped across the lawn. His thighs were thinner than his claves. The poor child must have been afflicted by polio. Many children were still not immunised in Chad.

There was an Egyptian named Samir Zogby. He was a  man of eclectic interests and we discussed the history of Saudi Arabia. I had been reading ”The Kingdom” by Robert Lacey. This is about Saudi Arabia. I later listened to some lectures he had given on Chadian History and read his notes.

There were plenty of Peace Corps volunteers there. These young bourgeois Americans would be posted to villages without electricity and would assist Chadians in various ways. They would work as teachers, nurses, doctors, engineers, journalists or business advisers.

===============================================

SAHR

A day after our trip was originally scheduled we set out for this town. At the airport we boarded a 12 seater plane. A Hollander was the pilot. He was a lanky seven footer whom the Netherlands seems to mass produce. The Flying Dutchman had blond hair and a moustache. Like most of his nationality he spoke flawless English. There were a few Chadeans aboard too. The engine was noisy and the plane had propellers and not a jet engine. The plane was not airtight and we got cold and had to put on extra clothes. I got to go up into the cockpit with the captain. He even had a little window open. After an hour or so we put down.

Sahr does not have an airport. It is more of an air strip. If memory serves, not even the runway was paved. We stepped out of the plane and into a sweltering tropical day. There was a hangar and that was the only building there. The countryside was immediately more verdant than Ndjamena. Taller trees sprung from the rich loam than ever I saw in Ndjamena. We drove along the red dirt road. I do not remember seeing a single paved out there. I remember seeing two soldiers walking along the road – there was no pavement – and a man in a white boubou walking in front of them, between them. I thought he was their prisoner and felt sorry for him. We passed an equestrian of Rabia Abu Zubair. My mother explained that he was a leader of Chadean resistance to the French conquest. Abu Zubair was a huge scale slaver. Many Chadeans welcomed the defeat of this cruel tyrant. He was killed at the Battle of Ndjamena in 1900. The French commander, Pascal Lamy, was killed at the same battle. Consequently Ndjamena was called Fort Lamy during the French epoch.

Sahr means ”encampment”. In the French era the colonial authorities decided to build a railway in the Congo. By this I mean the French Congo and no the Belgian Congo. This required a lot of labour. Most of the people of French Equatorial Africa were happy with their subsistence farming and had no wish to be navvies. So they were conscripted into building the railway. They were paid; it was only men who did this work and it was only for a limited period. Despite that it is fair to say that the authorities were not gentle or generous to these workers. Thousands of them died. there was high morbidity anyway in that region at that time. Life expectancy must have been very low. All the same the people of Chad, Central Africa, the French Congo and Gabon saw this work as perdition. The railway was finished about 1930. Sahr was called Encampment because at that time forced labourers who were rounded up were kept there. In the French era it was called Fort Archambault. Archambault was a French Army officer. The local people were a Bantu people called the Sara.

We drove to a compound. Single storey buildings stood here and there – widely spread out. We stayed with an American couple called the Lavertys. They had grown up children who lived back in the United States. Laverty was a retired military man who now had this security job for the company. Mr Laverty was tall and broad shouldered. He had a bluff manner and very short hair. He was the sort of ex-military man who always wore a baseball cap with the name of his unit on it. My father and he discussed Reagan and my dad made some disparaging remark. ”I thought Reagan was a great president. What was wrong with Reagan?”

Mrs Laverty was welcoming but dotty. She was a tall woman of medium built. He long gray hair was tied back in a loose bun. She told us of her niece ”who got pregnant and then got married – in that order.”

I stayed in a portakabin with my father. I found it faintly exciting to share a room with my father as I never had done so before. We were in bunkbeds. My sister and Mom stayed in the Laverty’s house. We watched endless videos due to our tedium. There was one about someone throwing a bottle out of a plane window over and African country. Some Bushmen found it and this empty bottle became the source of numerous bizarre happenings.

The Lavertys had a gardener who had a son a little older than me. I caught sight of the boy one time. We made momentary eye contact. This seemed to me to establish a sudden connection. We were both boys of about the same age. This cut through any barriers of race, of class, of nationality and of language. I noticed he had some angry boils on the side of his neck. I asked Mrs Laverty about that. She said there was a tribal initiation ceremony boys went through. This went back to the time of slavery. Here it was other black Africans who raided for slaves and not whites. The slaves were forced to work in nearby African countries or sometimes taken all the way to Arabia. To make themselves less appealing to slavers these men had these boil like things made on their faces by the neck. The boy’s father did not want his child to go through this pain. But then the father sent his son to stay with his grandparents for a little while. The grandfather had the boy go through this.

There was a stagnant swimming pool that my mother and I braved. Feathers and dusts floated along with other scum. My sister sagely refused to go near it.

My father went to Mondou one day and considering taking me with him. In the end I did not go. Later my father told me he was pleased that I had not been brought. He had been at a Catholic mission and seen many very ill and disabled people – some of them tied up. It would have been deeply upsetting for me.

Later my father told me of an odd incident in Sahr. He was walking along one evening when a crane flew over head – a snake writhing in its beak. The snake broke free and fell a few metres to the ground. The snake writhed up and hissed. My father had been snake bombed and he quickly backed off.

Snakes were a grave peril in those parts. the story went that Laverty was in a wooden hut with a thatched roof briefing people on the risks of snake bite. Just then a snake was spotted in the ceiling.

I dined in a portakabin with my father and many employees. These men were mostly American oil workers. They were from the southern states. They were geophysical men. They shook the ground to locate oil.

I was taken to an office and given a typewriter. They still existed in those days. Mrs Laverty encouraged me to type a letter to my grandmother which I did. A Chadean man stood over my shoulder and read it aloud with much amusement. I also met a white American woman who worked there. She had curly black hair and was garrulous. My father told me that she subscribed to the Bahai Faith. This religion originated in 19th century Persia. The man who founded it is called the Bab as in the gate. It is the only religion to have its sacred text still there in the original manuscript.  The word Bahai means ‘glory’ in Persian. I had never heard ot Bahaism until then.

We went to the house of a couple. He was a monosyllabic,  brown bearded little Swiss with heavy glasses. She was an outspoken American with short black hair and a long dress a couple of sizes too large for her.  She was so chatty that she compensated for her husband’s elective mutism but talking for two. My parents told them endlessly about Saudi Arabia. The lady was interested and spoke about her desire to move there. She sounded a note of caution when she observed that her father was Jewish and if this fact were discovered by the Saudi Arabian Government it would not work to her advantage. We watched a film. The Swiss man swathed himself in a blanket and fell akip. There was some hanky panky in the film and my father teased Prunella. ”What are they doing? Do you have a boyfriend? Are you going to do that?”

After about 3 days we flew back.

===========================

BOAT TRIP.

 

One Sunday we took a wooden boat up the river Chari. It was about 5 m long and easily sat my family and the boatman.

We saw some hippopotami. The boatman wisely gave them a very wide berth. I stupidly wanted to go closer.

 

We came to a village a couple of hours upriver. It was in a good state. There were many peace corps people there and the buildings were all in good conidtion. It was remakrably hygenic. An old Frenchwoman spoke to us happily. She had been born in Morocco and could not feel at home in France now. Astonishingly she spoke English.

 

After the boatman said his Muslim prayers we re-embarked.

————————————————

HISSEIN HABRE.

A few months before moving to Chad my mother told me that she had seen the President of Chad on the news stepping off the plane for a meeting. ”He seemed like a nice man”, was her inane comment. The scrawny beard of Hissein Habre was instantly recognisable. He had a fairly dark complexion that belied he somewhat Arabian features. He invariably appeared in an immaculate boubou. A boubou was the local male attire. He spoke fluent French in a noticeable Chadean accent. Habre had been defence minister under the pervious president until Habre had hankered after the top job for himself. He began a civil war which at first did not go well for him. He retreated to the fastness of the northern deserts which was where he came from. He carved out a fiefdom in the wastes of Borkou Ennedi Tibesti or BET as this enormous northern prefecture is known. He belonged to the Gorane tribe. His formed his own army – Les Forces Armees du Nord or FAN for short. The name tells you much about FANs’ absence of any ideology. It was a regionally and tribally based outfit. Habre ordered the taking of French and German hostages. After an exceptionally vicious civil war he managed to storm Ndjamena. The ruined buildings ten years on were evidence of the internecine fighting. France had opposed him suspecting him of being a Libyan puppet. Once he had seized power Paris mended fences with him. Habre was little better than a gangster but foreign governments managed to have a decent relationship with him. Elections were held but were widely believed to be a total travesty. He came from the Hadjerai tribe which dominated the centre and much of the north of the country. Hundreds of people who opposed him were summarily killed. He managed to keep order and there was some economic development under this efficient thug.

The chief reason why Western countries decided to pussyfoot around Habre’s cruelties was that the deranged Libyan despot did Habre the inestimable favour of invading. Libya was the sworn enemy of the Western world. France and the United States saw eye to eye on this. Gaddafi’s dilly must be defeated. With ample materiel from France and the USA the Chadians worsted the Libyans. It would be an exaggeration to say that Habre was the West’s darling. The border between Libya and Chad was not disputed by anyone – including Mummar Al Gaddafi – until about 1985. Then all of a sudden the microphone haired buffooned decided he wanted to grab the Aouzou Strip. This diagonal stretch of land runs from north-west to south-east along Chad’s frontier with Libya. There was rumoured to be uranium there. Whoever had been president of the country would have been entitled and indeed obliged to defend the national territory. It would not do for Washington and Paris to denounce Habre as the dictator he was when they were sending him planeloads of arms. Gaddfi denounced him with the usual Marxist Pan-African prattle about Habre being the lapdog of vampire imperialism.

The lowest estimate of Chadeans slain under Hissein Habre is 1 000. Some put it as high as 40 000. If his forces killed insurgents in combat one could say ‘fair enough’. A regime is entitled to use such force to defeat rebellions even if it is a wicked regime. But the use of force here went far beyond permissible self-defence. Peaceful protestors and dissidents were killed in huge numbers. His red bereted Gorane troops lolloped around the streets always chuckling.

Libyans captured by the Chadians were interviewed by the Central Intelligence Agency. Those Libyans amenable to the anti-Gaddafi cause were taken to a separate Prisoner of War camp. These POWs were treated much better and trained to liberate Libya from the misrule of the unholy fool. In the end they were not used. Libya was liberated in 2011 but I doubt this anti-Gaddafi Legion was used.

I met a local American spook. He was tall, tidily though informally dressed and urbane. He was a white man with dark brown hair and winning ways. He was fluent in Japanese. My father said another American diplomat but he or she had not been declared to the Chadeans or even to the other US embassy staff. Everyone was trying to guess this person’s identity.

In August we flew to Paris and thence to Ireland.

=============================================

That December I was in Great Britain. I was due to go to Chad for Christmas. Then I got a phone call. Cancel that. My parents had left Chad for a while. There had been a coup. More accurately there had been a civil war. Hissein Habre had had a falling out with his Defence Minister – Idriss Deby – the year before. The Defence Minister was the wrong man to alienate. Deby had got the hell out to Libya. With the assistance of Mummar Al Gaddafi he had formed a motley army. Deby had quickly gained control of thw very eastern edge of the country. This was where Deby’s own Zaghawa tribe predominated. The Zaghawa people straddle the border between the Sudan and Chad. For once European. colonial administrators cannot be blamed since the border was defined by Egypt when she ruled the Sudan. Deby and his crew stormed the eastern city of Abeche. The garrison had their throats cut. From there his column of pick up trucks crossed the country taking town after town. There was a final assault on the capital in early December.

Hissein Habre did what African tyrants usually do in this situation – a valedictory visit to the national bank to clean it out. He then raced to the airport and boarded a plane stuffed with treasures and got the hell out. Mubarak should have taken note.

Despite the support of Tripoli for Deby it is said that the French secret services threw their weight behind Deby. I am not quite sure why. The Libyan threat was gone and Habre had treated them badly before.

My parents took this all with equanimity. The packed to be evacuated. My father recalled shoving a shirt into a suitcase to the sound of artillery shells bursting. ”Don’t crumple the shirt” nagged my mother. ”If we do not hurry up the artillery will crumple us.” They were remarkably calm about it. Law and order were in total abeyance. Armed men marauded the streets. They were from one army or other and in some cases common criminals. Among the armies disciplined had all but disappeared.

My parents went to a French Foreign Legion base with all other Western expatriates. They bivouaced there. They told one of the  French Foreign Legion officers they were Irish. He was a Frenchman himself despite serving in the ‘Foreigin’ Legion. ”Zere is one Irishman oonder my command. I will present you him.” The officer went and fetched the Irish Legionaire.

The Irish soldier came along and said, ”How’s about you. My name’s Malachy and I’m from Belfast.” My parents were thrilled. This Irishman was a northern Catholic and he had joined because unemployment was so high where he came from. He had had a crash course in French in the Legion. He recalled going home to Belfast and bumping into the RUC on the street. The RUC asked him what he did for a living. When he mentioned he was in the French Foreign Legion they backed off.

My parents flew out. The Americans were very pleased to have this help from the French for free. The Americans noted that if their govoernment had rescued them they would be getting a bill from Uncle Sam.

Ndjamena was an open city. The looting was allowed to go on for the customary three days. Zaghawa warriors carried furniture out of the presidential palace. Idris Deby was now the president.

================================================

A year later we flew back to Ndjemena. We gathered in Amsterdam. I was with my parents and Prunella. We met that Bahai couple who lived in Sahr. We flew on Transavia – a Dutch charter airline. Prunella was still of the view that the month she was due to spend in Chad was time on the cross.

It was dawn as we approached Ndjamena – the capital city of Chad. Out of the window I could see light mist over a pale brown earth.

The red bereted Gorane troops were no longer in the streets. They had fled with their warlord Hissein Habre. He was in another African country but the word on the street was that he was plotting a comeback. It was too early to write him off. Instead Zaghawa troops swaggered around in their khafiyah style headgear. This is a sort of a scarf wrapped around the head like a woman’s one. The Zaghawa wore it in plain block colours – without any stripes. They tended to choose a khaki one. Sometimes I saw boys in their mid teens outside Campe des Martyres – an army base – wearing army uniforms several times too big for them. They would be in good spirts always it seemed.

This time we had a house of our own. It was a mile or so from the compound. There was a house to one side and an Arab family lived there. I saw men in Arab robes and heard them speaking a language that I could not mistake for anything else. I never saw a female member of the household. Once our house was built some vagrants lent wooden planks up against our rear wall and that was their shelter. The abjectness of their penury cannot be exaggerated.

There was another change. Now there was a gazelle in the garden. It was young and very fleet footed. I never managed to lay a hand on it despite it not having room to manouevre. My father was friends with the Soviet ambassador – Dmitri Filitov. Filitov had one daughter back on the Soviet Union. His daughter was married and had a son of about seven. The marriage broke up and the situation was bad back there. So Filitov and his wife had their grandson sent out to Chad and they raised him there. He attended the French school and called the gazelle belle tete – beautiful head – when he visited the house.

We went to the stables sometimes. By now we had acquired a horse. the stable boys had dubbed the horse ‘Americana’. We spoke English so we must be American. They had probably never heard of Ireland. We did not correct them. Americana was a young mare and a red-brown in colour. I had little interest in riding but had nothing else to do. There was only so much swimming, reading and lazing by the pool I could do.  I played with lego and soldiers. I devised imaginary wars for myself to be fought.

I befriended out security guards for want of children to speak to. There was one short and oldish chap who had rotten teeth. He was agreeable and welcoming. He gave me tea that was much to sweet. His face was unusual for a Chadian. If I had not known better I would have imagined that he was an Indian.

I was fond of gappy. Gappy was an affable man. I called him this – not to his visage – on account of the spaces between his teeth. He was tall and spare. His nose was angular and though he was definitely black his features were not typically African. He spoke brilliant English because he used to be a teacher. It says much about the poverty of the country and the imbalances created by multinationals that a teacher should end up working as a security guard because it is better paid. I brought my French books out to him. We would sit in his hut and he would help me with the language.  I had even been pronouncing the word ”le” as ”lee”. He taught me that in French it is ”lu” in pronunciation. He had been to Cameroon and had even seen the sea. Chad is a landlocked country.

There was another security guard who stood out. I do not remember his name so I shall give him the most common Chadian name – Mamadou. Mamadou was a man in his 20s. He was handsome and athletic. He looked typically West African. He had a cheerful disposition and spoke fairly good English. He had an AK 47. He had been in the police. I asked him how many people he had arrested ”beaucoup” he answered gleefully.

These guards were all lovely people. I wonder what they made of me – an Irish boy coming to speak to them. They were indulgent and laughed heartily at my feeblest attempts at humour.

One time I decided to go riding when no other member of my family wished to go. I phoned Denis and he came to pick me up in his battered and off colour Toyota. There were no seat belts around. I chatted with nonchalance – unembarrassed by my numerous grammatical disagreements. Denis cruised around the soil streets. I noticed on the way to Chagoua we passed through an area where mire covered pigs trotted merrily along by the open sewer. This must be a Christian area since Muslims would not allow swine around.

I rode around the paddock a bit. Sometimes we would take a hack by the shimmering Chari. We could see across to Cameroon on the far bank. Low, gnarled trees stood around. They were individual – there was never so much as a copse of them.

Once Denis had been riding along when he saw a man on a horse in the River Chari. The man had patently got into difficulties and Denis rode into the river on an ill-omened rescue mission. The man panicked and assumed that Denis was attacking him. Like many Chadians this man carried a knife and pulled it out to stab Denis. Denis backed off and fell in. He swam to the bank and his horse waded it out. The man drowned and Denis swallowed water into the bargain. The foul river water made him so ill that he was hospitalised.

In our house I found a ‘Lonely Planet’ guide book. I was ravenous for information about other countries. I went through it avidly. This book was about what were little known countries in Central Africa. I have since become and enthusiast for this series.

Hissein was doing a superb job. He usually wore pale jeans and a white shirt. Laverty gave him and American flag badge which he wore too. He wore it upside down and Laverty insisted on correcting him. Hissein was about the half century mark so by Chadian standards this was not middle aged but old. He was still supple and bent to his tasks very efficiently.

Hissein was still our houseboy. He would never through out any food even if these comestibles were inedible. My mother thought him superb for not chucking out stale food. Terry was an Africa old hand and he enlightened us. He told us that the servant would not bin bad food because otherwise we might accuse him of stealing it.

When my sisters and I were away my parents consumed virtually no milk – a drop in coffee and that was it. There had cartoons of long life milk. One day my mother noticed that half the cartoons had gone. She suspected Hissein had purloined it and asked him where it was. He said there had been this amount of milk the day before. She was unconvinced but took no action. There is the possibility that my mother was mistaken.

Hissein was married. How old was his wife when she first parturated? She was 14! My sister was 13 when she was told this by my mother, ”welcome to motherhood.” To inseminate a 14 year old would be seen as profane in the Developed World. Hissein was an altogether good egg and his conduct must be judged by the mores of his society. Forgive me for being culturally relativist. No Chadian would have seen him as being a child abuser and neither do I.

One Sunday when I was away at boarding school my parents went and visited his house. The baby started crying his or her eyes out. The infant has never seen whites. Hissein never cooked at home he said – that would be beneath his station.

My parents were good to Hissein. His roof blew off and he needed a loan. My parents advanced him the money and took it off his salary. He was also giving handouts to relatives. Sunday was his day off. I suggested making Friday his day off because he was Muslim. My mother said then other people would say their manservant had asked for Friday off and it would create trouble.

Once Hissein was cycling back home. He was stopped by some soldiers. They said he needed a licence for his bicycle which he did not have. I am not sure if that was true. They beat him up and robbed him. It was a reminder of just how lawless the country was. If a soldier of policeman did it he was sure to get away with it. Worse was to come. Zaghawa soldiers disliked the Hadjerai tribe. Hissein lived in a Hadjerai district of Ndjamena. His neighbour sixteen year old son had his throat cut by Zaghawa soldiers. There was nothing the family could do to get justice.

My mother seemed serenely content just sitting around at home. She once taught at the American school for a month or so when we were away at boarding school.

My parents went to a dinner party and my sister and I stayed in. My sister indulged in a rebellious cigarette. She then turned the fan on to blow the odour away. She was utterly bored – more so than me. Once my father came home from lunch and she was still abed. He picked her up in her jimjams and flung her into the pool.

My parents had visitors around sometimes such as Madame Abtour. She was glamorous and past it Lebanese woman. There are quite a few Lebanese businesspeople in such countries. She was the British consul despite not being British. Her husband was also Lebanese. The poor man had a congenitally deformed hand. When they were coming around my mother warned my dad not to suggest a game of pool.

I remember my parents bringing an American couple around. They were in their 50s and could speak fluent French. The woman smoked constantly. It was tedious for me as I wished to join in the adult conversation. I was precocious and fascinated by world affairs I had no one else to speak to. My parents talked over me and I was excluded.

We went to the Cathedral once. It was in the main square. This hulking white building was handsome. It was partly open to the air to cool it down. The Pope had visited not long before. This fact was celebrated on postage stamps.

We went to a museum across the road. It had only three rooms and was very higgledy piggledy. Some Chadian young men were curious about us and spoke to us. It turned out they spoke English.

On another occasion we mozied around an open air market in that area. There were many souvenirs – handmade items. The vendors mostly wore khaki suits – the sort one associates with East Africa. A few could speak English.

 

================================

ROAD TRIP

One Sunday it was decided that we would go on a road trip. We drove towards Elephant Rock. This rock resmbles a pacciderm hence its name. It was about two hours drive north-west of Ndjamena. The dirt road was built up a good two metres from the surrounding land. This was so the road would be above water if it flooded which it often did.

Mahamat Al Haj went too in another car. Al Haj was a short and obese Chadian. He had been on the Haj to Mecca which was hwy he was known by the honorific Al Haj. He spelt Mohammed the French way – Mahamat.

We went to a village where we dined. We met the chief who was a good looking young man in an almost shiningly white boubou. We were also greeted by a wizen old man who smiled benignly and made goat noises. Were we to say, ”Yes, Your Highness.” Was this a practical joke? This man made more goat noises with utter eagerness. We noticed a large lump on the back of his head. What was this growth. This man continued to make these animal sounds all day and no one else thought it extraordinary. He must had a hearing prpblem and been unable to hear human speech. Maybe he was mentally ill. He never spoke a human word.

 

We had lunch on the ground under and awning. Some of the chief’s retainers watched us from a few metres away. The looked eagerly at our food – their mouths open. We realised that we were expected to give them some so we did.

We drove to the edge of Lake Chad. This is the geographical feature that lends its name to the country. It was not impressive at all. It has shrunk enormously. There were just some reeds. My father did some bird spotting with his ornithology book and binoculars. He reckoned he saw a Sudanese Bustard.

We drove across country to Elephant Rock. The land was rough and bumpy. We all climbed up the rock except my mother. The grotto near the top was filled with reeking bat shit. Hundreds of bats hung upside down from the roof. We could see miles across the bush land.

We drove back and a rainstorm struck. Al Haj kept shooting at birds. Finally he hit one in a thicket. His servant dasehd out of the car with a knife. He then returned with a knife in one hand and the foul in the other. He had cut its throat. He was trying to kill it the halal way – as though the shot had not killed it.

 

 

 

 

=============================================================

We left Chad and flew out via Amsterdam. Schipohl Airport was a different world. So clean, orderly and bright. Everything was in a good state of repair and colourful. The police carried huge guns which I shall never forget. The lofty Netherlander was with us as was Mario. At the baggage reclaim I saw a pram come around. The Dutchman quipped, ”look there is your chair.”

This moustachioed numbers cruncher  Mario was very indulgent as I read his ticket without his say so. I had no notion of manner then. It was from Voyages Havas.

We had a few hours there. WE walked around Dam Square. Some American tourists asked us directions. My father could not miss the opportunity, ”Dam Square,  I am damn sure of that.’ We made a foray into the edge of the Red Light district. I was much too young to appreciate it. I saw T-shirts saying, ”I like the Pope – the Pope smokes dope.’ I was very moral back then and imagined being a priest later and going to such people to preach to them on the iniquity of their ways. The one thing I disliked about Amsterdam was that it was polluted. Chad was very poor and people defecated in the streets. The one good thing one could say about it being underdeveloped was that there were few exhaust fumes because so few people had cars.

We took in ‘Dances with Wolves.’ That three hour long Kevin Costner picture was then en vogue.

We flew to Edinburgh. The taxi driver on the way from the airport to our flat broke some news. Iraq had invaded Kuwait. What about my friend Andrew how lived there? I began hearing that Brits there were taken hostage. Had he been nabbed?

================================================

I never returned to that country. I read a magazine from that country a year or so later. It was called Hebdomaire. It was just after Deby had fended off an attempt by Habre to seize power back again. It showed photos of men tied to stakes on some open space. They were given a last cigarette and then executed by firing squad. I felt no emotion about this. A caption said that one of them was ”coupable”. A nurse who had tended a wounded Habre partisan was also executed. She had done only her humanitarian duty.

I read the cartoons. Some of them were against the Hadjerai – another tribe to which our house boy belonged. Another of them showed two men chatting as they tended chickens. A topic came up that I had not heard of ”SIDA” – I was to discover that this was the French word for AIDS. This was already becoming a significant problem in Chad. I knew something about this deadly disease – that it could be sexually transmitted.

Americana was sold to the owner of an abbatoir. Not for meat but for riding!

The United Arab Emirates. Travel writing.

Standard

I was nine years old when we set off for Dubai for the first time. I flew with my sisters from Aberdeen to London. We spent two days with my aunt Petronella. At one of the London airports were boarded a kite of I know not which airline. I was seated far from my sisters. Two Oriental men sat beside me. I promptly took my socks off and inspected the peeling skin on the soles of my feet. I had athlete’s foot at the time. I proceeded to tear off the dry skin and munch on it.  There was a caesura in conversation! The two men did not speak to me for the rest of the flight. Oddly they did not ask to move. I am surprised they did not ask to be relocated. I spent the rest of my time perusing various history books. I was already a confirmed bibliomane.

The plane touched down in Vienna. I was able to see some mansarding on the roofs as we came in low. I was excited even to sit on the tarmac of another country. I was proud to know that we were in Austria. I was into the notion of visiting divers countries even then. I was hot on country count. More passengers came aboard. I looked out for not too long before it was up, up and away.

The plane hied us to Dubai. The airport was nothing like as large as it is now but is was still roomy and the temperature was agreeable. There was a large baggage reclaim hall which knocked the socks off the equivalent in Dhahran – the Airport we usually used in Saudi Arabia. My eldest sister was in charge and I was deeply nervous. I recalled her asking my parents some time before which hotel we were staying at since she did not know what to write on the landing cards. She was so collected and handled all with aplomb. I recalled her speaking to a dapper little Emirati man who patently thought he was good-looking.

Soon it was out through the green channel and into the arms of our parents.

We were whisked to the Ramada Hotel.It was almost too cool in there as they are overzealous with the AC. The lift had glass on one side so we could see down so many floors. It was the first glass lift I had ever seen. They are now as standard in such places.

We had two separate rooms. Despite our long flight we were in a tizzy. I mooched around the tan carpet in my bare feet. My mother took a look at my piggies and spotted something amiss. My left foot had a bone far bigger than on my right. A bone jutted out on the instep. The large toe was malformed and pointing inwards. All the other bones were misaligned. I was to have investigations and X-rays. Over the coming years the decision was taken to leave it. My sister had a similar problem and had surgery without result.

There were several restaurants and shops on the ground floor. My middle sister and I liked playing hide and seek around there. The staff were remarkably and almost negligently tolerant. There were very few guests so we did not cause much disturbance. The staff were mostly Indian and Pakistani. These people (mostly men) would fain take a job in the United Arab Emirates because there was such abject poverty at home. Moreover, these unfortunate men were paid a groat a day and often employers reneged on their promises. It was an is a desperately unfair and a disgraceful situation. The prosperity of the much of the Middle East is built on part on sharp practices and outright crime. Denying day labourers their wages is a sin crying to heaven for vengeance/

We headed out next day. An arpeggio sounded in the lift and the door opened. We stepped onto the gleaming marble. The automatic doors of the hotel opened to the furnace of Arabian heat. A biege clock tower stood in front of the hotel. It is not very remarkable but at the time was a source of much wonderment in Dubai. The odd gharry stood there but there seemed to be no takers and the nags were drowsy.

We drove to Sharjah. There was a bit of open country between Dubai and Sharjah. There were small sandunes and there were pebbled plains.  Rhizomes and bushes broke the monotony of the tawny topography. My father got lost and would slow down to ask directions from our Commonwealth cousins. He would speak to a South Asian in a peculiar headdress. My father would bark a destination at him. The poor man’s face would declare his incomprehension and consternation. My father had the British attitude that everyone understands English if it is shouted loud enough. People only pretend to misunderstand. Somehow we made it. Stepping into one of those fabled souqs was like stepping back a century. It is difficult not to exhaust the stock phrases. The building was dun and mud-built. Electric fans whirred weakly and that was one of the few concessions to modernity but for the bare lightbulbs. The shopkeepers were men to a man. The few women about were Arabs and all wore headscarves if not veil. This was a trichottologists nightmare. There were many Persian carpets piled high. Shops sold old old lamps and coffee pots – mostly badly rusting. There were bows of spices and fruit. The lively food odours; the ripe armpits; the brash and tasteless colours against the monochrome walls and the hubbub made an impression. These images are hackneyed but they are true.

One day we drove into Oman. There is a thumb of land butting into the Gulf of Hormuz. The end of this peninsula belongs to Oman. It is cut off from the main portion of Oman by the United Arab Emirates. We drove into the countryside. The land undulated and there were a few low, dusty trees around which goats sought respite from the ferocious suns. Not many vehicles coursed across the blacktop. There were shining SUVs and beat up Toyota pickup trucks carrying Filipino labourers to their workplaces. We stopped at a petrol station and saw an Arab man in his white thobe sitting in the driver’s seat. He was dusky faced and in his 50s and sported a fearsome, curling black beard. His conceited and sanguine demeanour made quite an impression. My father dubbed him a ”son of the desert.”

At one point my father yelped with excitement as he had seen a wind devil. This is a curious meteorological event which is like a tiny tornado. He has never seen one before. We passed many low-rise and banal villages. Barely a chough was to be seen and no one was abroad in the noonday heat.

We came to a fairly smart hotel in Oman to spend a few hours. There was a swimming pool and I had left my trunks behind. My mother was characteristically choleric. I had not heard her instructions to bring togs. Nor had anyone else. So who is more likely to be wrong. I do not remember any border control. It was not worth the drive. In one village we saw two wild bulls fighting on the village brown. I call it a brown since what would be the village green was an area of sand. There were decrepit looking off-white bungalows around. It was a dispiriting scene. It was dark by the time we neared Dubai. I revealed to my father that it was noised at school that there was something going on between my sister and Jocelyn. He had sport of her. I regretted telling my father this and said I had invented it. He did not fall for that.

My sister was then into puff balls skirts and she was bought a few.

After a few days we flew to Dhahran. From there we drove home or more correctly were driven.

=======================================================

At the age of 34 I flew to Dubai. Chuffin’ Norah was I glad to be shot of the last place! The airport was the biggest I have ever seen. The place was adorned in numberless advertisements. The place was so cosmopolitan. Flights were going to all corners of the globe. Last time I had been there is had served not many airports beyond the Middle East. There was such a long walk from the plane to passport control. I noticed that the immigration officers only wore national dress. A few were women. They spoke perfect English. There were no questions just a formality and I was through. It was midnight when I stepped out of the terminal to the greeting area. I picked out the two white faces among a mass of people of South Asian and East Asian stock.

Dubai even had a perfect taxi service. There was so much to talk about. Back to the flat. I met Adnan the Pakistani security guard. The flat was very roomy and sparsely furnished. I was jaded mainly due to emotion.

I collapsed on my double bed. Dawn came in through the blinds. A smile crossed my face. The smiling snake would be exercising his knuckles on my door. I had arranged for that thieving bastard to take me to the airport at 5 am. I would have liked to tell this sirrah what I thought of his despicable ways.

Next day we had a relaxing breakfast. I soaked in the sense of liberation and the company of my parents. We headed out into the brilliant day. We took taxis to a hotel bar where my father had forgotten something  – his trademark is disorganisation.

We took a cruise on a small boat captained by a dark-skinned Indian. There was some haggling over the fee. My parents pointed out various consulates.

We went to the old town by the Creek of Dubai and looked at some of the historic sights. The place was well preserved and relaxed. We walked through a souq. I ran the gauntlet of hawkers. I thought I had an ingenious way to fend off the vendors. I answered their English in Russian, ”izvyenite gaspadin no ya ne ponyemayoo po Angliski. Tolka po Rooski pozhalste tovarash.” The shopkeepers would looked perplexed for a moment and then say, ”oh yes we have that item.”

My parents had been here not long before with Andy. This bald man is 60+ is looks very ill. He has had much of his bowel removed from cancer. They called him the professor.

We visited a joint Hindu and Sikh temple. Apart from the smell of feet this place was pleasant. I did not get any sense of spirituality there. I cannot understand their tongue and there is so much bustle to the place. I am just not used to it. Their religious music does nothing for me. It is a testament to the broadmindedness of the Emiratis that they permit such temples which the Saudis would not.

We crossed the Creek in a small wooden boat which functions as public transport. It was novel and charming.

We went to the Sailing Club sometimes. We swam and lounged on the sun chairs. The clientele is made up of Emiratis, Russians, Britons, South Africans, French folk and Australians. There are no Indians and the like. They are not barred but it so happens that none have joined.

The place was very informal and pleasant. The salt breeze was agreeable. This was the life. The grub hit the spot too. I spoke to a British chap who had spent years in Hong Kong and was not in Dubai. This bald man took pensive drags as he assessed my skills. After savouring his cigarette he suggested getting in touch with his mate in Hong Kong. I told him how  I wanted to be back in the British Isles. He was pole-axed. ”What do you miss, tax?”

I met a fellow Hibernian named Jerry. This round-faced man in his 50s boasted a blazer with bright buttons. His opening gambit was to point to his buttons, ”These are Royal Cork Yacht Club, you know that don’t you?” He florrid cheeks from his heroic alcohol consumption. He had given up the fags and he emphasised. He was a Mr Wheeler Dealer. I would say he had the gift of the gab but not he was an indefatigable self-publicist who was rather off-putting. He was constantly blowing his trumpet. His son was in Trinity and doing Business. My parents said how I spoke Russian. Then Jerry;s son spoke Russian. His son had set up an American fraternity in Dublin. The son was already doing well in business and would be a billionaire. Jerry blatantly had rock bottom self-esteem. Otherwise why incessantly inflate his achievements and those of his son.  My parents treated this braggart with excessive indulgence.

An Emirati police chief frequented the place. When a family had annoyed him once he had had them arrested.

I went around with my mum when my father was out. We went to shopping centres.

We took in Cirque du Soleil. We dined out a lot. We ate at a pub where all the staff were African black and white. We ate at an Argentine restaurant where the waiters were Indian. The Indian sommelier had slicked back hair and was rather tall for one of his race. I just then thought of the etymology of sommelier – someil as in sleep. Good wine helps one sleep

I walked b y the Burj al Khalifa and saw the lights and the fountain show. It was the second time I had been in the shadow of the world’s loftiest building. The previous one had been the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia. That mighty edifice had been overtopped several times since.

I went on the space age metro. I went to the aquarium.

My mother was doing her water aerobics mostly.

It seemed a most agreeable place to live.

We passed the Sail.

I flew out after 6 days. Maybe I should have stayed longer but I was in the frame for a job in Moscow.

 

 

Countries that I have been to in approximate sequences of first visit.

Standard

Republic of Ireland.- partly written

England – partly written

Italy / partly written

Aged 1 (total 3)

_____________________________________

Libya. written

Tunisia – written fully.

aged 2 (total 5)

________________________________________________________

France. partly written

Monaco . written

Vatican City – written

aged 3 (total 8)

_____________________________________________________________________________

Scotland. – partly written
Jordan. written

aged 4 (total 10)

_____________________________________________

Saudi Arabia. – partly written
Jersey. – written
Guernsey.- written

aged 5 (total 13)

____________________________________________________________

South Africa, – partly written
Swaziland- written

aged 6 (total 15)

Greece. partly written

aged 7 (total 16)

______________________________________________________

Israel, written
Palestine, – written
Cyprus, written
Egypt. – partly written
Spain. partly written
Andorra – partly written

aged 8 ( total 22)

_______________________________________

Netherlands. partly written

Bahrain. – written

aged 9 (total 23)

_________________________

UAE, – partly written
Oman, partly written
Thailand. written

aged 10 (total 26)

_________________________________________________________________

Chad – written

AGED 11 (total 27)

___________________________________________________________

Northern Ireland. – partly written

aged 12

aged 13. Switzerland. – partly written

(total 28)

aged 14

________________________________________________________________________________

Russia, – partially written
Qatar – partly written (total 30)

aged 15

__________________________________

USA – partly written

aged 16 (total 31)

__________________________________________________

aged 17

Wales – partly written

__________________________________________

aged 18 (total 32)

aged 19

Nepal, written partly

India partly written

(total 34)

________________________________________________________

aged 20

Pakistan. written

aged 21 (total 35)

____________________________________________________________________________________

Germany, partly written
Singapore, partly written
Indonesia, partly written
Malaysia, partly written
Vietnam, written
Laos, written
Cambodia. written

aged 22 (total 42)

_______________________________________________________________

Belgium. written

aged 23 (total 43)

_________________________________________

Morocco. partly written
Turkey. partly written
Slovenia. – partly written
Austria. partly written
Czech Republic. – partly written
Peru, – written
Chile, – written
Uruguay. – written
Argentina. – written
Brazil.  written

(total 53)

__________________________

aged 24.

Portugal. -\ Finished
Gibraltar – Partly written.

(total 55)

_____________________________________________________________

aged 25

Lichtenstein. – finished
Slovakia.- finished
Hungary. – finished
Croatia.- finished

(total 58)

______________________________________

Age 26.

Luxembourg. – finished

San Marino.- finished.

Estonia,- written

Latvia, – written

Lithuania. – written

Poland.- written

Romania. – partly written

Serbia. – written

Bosnia Herzegovina. – written

Montenegro. – partly written

Albania.  written

Macedonia.- written

Norway- written

(total 71)

________________________________________________________________

aged 27

Denmark. written

Sweden. written

Finland. – written

Malta. – written

Costa Rica,- written

Nicaragua. – written

Honduras, – written

El Salvador.- written

Guatemala. – written

Belize. – written

Mexico.- written

(total 82)

____________________________________________________________

aged 28

Ukraine. completed

Moldova. completed.

Jamaica. completed.

Barbados

(total 88)

________________________________________________________________________

aged 29

Iceland

(total 90)

__________________________________________________________________________________________

aged 30

aged 31

none since.
Azerbaijan

Georgia. Partly written.  (total 92)

============

aged 34.

Kazakhstan

(total 93)

 

Chat up lines.

Standard

Do you want to see if the morning after pill really works?

 

 Would you care for some Rohypnol?

 

Abortions are free you know. 

 

Are you a lesbian? If not prove it! If yes, prove it!

===============================

To the police:

”No officer I am not beating up my girlfriend. I am giving her an Afghan facelift. You have to respect my culture.”

First thing to say in police interview when sound recorded. ”Please stop giviing me electric shocks to the gonads officer.”