Monday, 3 March 2014

'Early Morning Run in... London'

First light: 0642 hrs
Time start: 0558 hrs
Time finish: 0632 hrs
Weather: 4C (ouch)
Circumstances: Monday morning, business day

This week the old switcheroo. Change Africa for Europe. The 5th in the 'Early Morning Run In...' series. Complete contrast.

I've used quotes to open previous posts. Confucius this time, "Every journey of a thousand miles begins with... some fat cabbie (his name was Sid) moaning about the economy." My experience last evening in Central London...

Feels good back in the cold air of London. Ten days special treats before heading back to West Africa. Fresh milk with my cereal. Morning newspapers. John Lewis. No mosquitoes. No net. A cool room. Fast Internet. Electricity. No generator. Pret A Manger. Not being surrounded by life insecurity. Ah, and a good nights rest. In fact, I aim to sleep soundly, just like my security guard back in Freetown.

You have to miss it. An old sage in Africa once told me, write down everything you think unusual when you first arrive. In 6 months time, it will seem completely normal. Taking breakfast in Khartoum one day, an obese driller told how the previous evening a small plane was landing the wrong way at the airport. The Lufthansa Airbus had to abort the landing, pull up, and fly over the top of the other plane. No one batted an eyelid. "Pass the sugar", was about it.

What will I miss? Fish. Beach. Sun. The people of Sierra Leone. Misfits. My SL divas. I always miss my divas. They're divas right down to their high heels, power handbags and sense of entitlement (in a nice way). As they read this, they'll be mortified. Divas - I warned you. One is hairless, West African style. In fact, bald as a badgers bum. This is Senior Diva. Codename 'Eagle'. Young, or Baby Diva, with a new hairstyle every week and sporting handbags the size of a 2 berth caravan, is climbing the Freetown 'Divadom' chart at a healthy pace. Codename 'Cobra'. Divas, stop reading this blog, off your cell phones and on with some work. We have a business to build.

It's funny. When one is in West Africa, you yearn for home. Paradoxically when the time comes to return (in 9 days time), one embraces it. What Africa gives you more than any single thing? Appreciation. Appreciation, not taking things for granted. Appreciation, small things. Appreciation, how lucky you are. Oh, and that Marvel skimmed milk powder will never replace Daisy the Cow.

I should point out I've mostly African gear with me. This doesn't mean I stroll around London dressed like a Senegalese lottery winner. It means old clothes that have been battered, look OK in Africa, but in London... This trip was hasty and unexpected.

African clothing. I wanted to write to Rohan a few years ago. A terrific UK brand. They had trousers advertised as unshrinkable. They were indestructible. You could do anything to these trousers. Rohan hadn't figured in my Sudanese maid. She turned them into a fashion statement. One embraced by most northern Brit holidaymakers every time they venture abroad, or to the local off license to pick-up a pack of Woodbines on a winters evening.

I realise how bad 'maid' reads. I worked for an oil company in Sudan at the time. Not only a maid, but a driver, gardener, cook, and cleaner. In the interests of fairness, I have all these positions in the UK. It's just that Mrs R. doesn't like it when I call her these things. Oh, and the cleaner in Khartoum. We called her the Special Forces of cleaners. Never knew if she'd been in the apartment or not.

Time and tide wait for no man. Let's start running. The distinctive sound of Big Ben. The start point is outside my hotel. Westminster Bridge. The London Eye lit up to my right. Over the Bridge past the Houses of Parliament on my left. After the misery of humidity in Accra, I now have the spring of a startled gazelle.

London is a beautiful city. In my view the best in the world. I see some appropriately dressed joggers. Thin gloves, thermal layers, running tights, fluorescent tops, hats (toques for the Canadian readership), headphones. Don't see anyone with dirty sand coloured trainers, shorts, 2 short sleeved T-shirts and a polo shirt with an upturned collar. It's a little chilly.

No entertainment. Don't need distractions this morning. Passed Number 10 on my left - all the way to Nelson's Column. Veer left. What a city. What better than running down the Mall. It's inspiring and as if by magic my pace lifts. What's even faster than a startled gazelle? Three-quarters down the Mall Buckingham Palace is coming into view. I come up behind 2 joggers wearing three-quarter length trousers from Rohan, white shoes, with black and white striped football shirts. Sounds like they're from oop north. They're smoking Woodbines. I didn't really come up behind 2 such joggers. Made that bit up.

Left at the Palace. Past Wellington Barracks. Stayed there a few times. Horsferry Road down to the River Thames. Over Lambeth Bridge and follow the river back to the London Eye. Feeling splendid. What's even faster than something quicker than a startled gazelle? Johnny your heart out. Past the Eye up to Greyfriars Bridge at a pretty good lick. The turnaround point. Jog back to Westminster Bridge to warm down. Into Starbucks for a takeaway coffee behind the old GLC building. Phil Collins (Mr Phil - an African icon) on the piped music. Actually, it was Ray Charles 'I Can't Stop Loving You' - been humming it all day. That was followed by Frankie Valli...

Reading the newspapers this morning took me back to Sudan. To an oil compound in Rubkona. I used to stay there. The Camp Manager was a huge fellow. A huge man with a huge heart. Maybe 300 lbs. He'd become concerned by his weight. He decided to run up the attached airstrip every morning. The airstrip was 2.2 km long. Locals called him '2-Man' because of his size. No unkindness intended. Just African humour. Everyone in the village knew 2-Man. Back then the Sudan problems were as now. Tribal conflict. 2-Man was out on the airstrip for his daily walk/jog. At the turnaround, shooting broke out from the bushes. Bored soldiers shooting at birds. 2-Man wasn't to know. He went from doing 20-minute miles to an Olympic sprinter in a heartbeat. He was on the move. As told to me with a great merriment by a chief, the locals hurriedly left their tukuls (huts) with their suitcases thinking an Antonov was landing to evacuate them. The Chief would go into convulsions retelling this story.

In closing, anyone who saw a stranger taking breakfast in a hotel near Westminster Bridge this morning and thought of similarities with a scene from 'When Harry Met Sally'. This is the effect of fresh milk and 9 weeks in Freetown. Nothing more...

See you back in Africa...