Sunday, 15 May 2016

Early Morning Run in...'The Sponge'


It began raining in Freetown on Friday, June 13th.
As Supertramp once sang, "It's Raining Again." Unlucky for some. Unlucky for us. The rain came through the ill-fitting windows and the ill-fitting doors and the ill-fitting floor and the ill-fitting roof, and most unbelievably through the walls. The rain would swirl up through the hills and hammer our residence at all angles.
I rented ‘The Sponge' in April 2012. The house sat majestically at the mouth of a meandering valley in the undulating hills of Hill Station, Freetown, Sierra Leone. We quickly discovered this was a one season house. Dry season.
Lukulay House. The owner was Mr Lukulay. The road was Lukulay Drive. The drive was off Fadika Drive. The most prominent house on this drive was Mr Fadika's. He had a life-size grey paper mache elephant in his garden. His house was called Fadika House. Both my birthday cards took six months to arrive that year.
‘The Sponge' had five bedrooms. I lived upstairs in one, the others were guest rooms for visitors from North America. Downstairs was office space.
Mr Lukulay, much to his ultimate horror, had hired a cowboy project manager. Let's call him ‘The Fox'. The house was 70% complete when we signed up. ‘The Fox' was to finish the build after payment of half of the two years rent in advance. The balance to be settled when the House passed a third party safety audit. Check the electrics and the plumbing? Does the roof leak? The possibility of being fried in the shower? A fire risk with a fuse box the size of an ashtray? The generator?
My Divas visited the site regularly and quickly realised ‘The Fox' was a well-meaning amateur. Mr Lukulay lived in America and worked a long-distance trust with his project manager. ‘The Fox' when in doubt painted everything and everywhere. The place was becoming thicker by the day.
After much to and fro around the findings of the audit, we eventually moved in 3 months late. We had been waiting for the washing machine to arrive. ‘The Fox' informed us the ship bringing it from the UK had sunk in a storm, all cargo lost, including our washing machine. ‘The Fox' would tell us funny stories most days and at every deadline. Then he'd shout at the painter to slap on more paint.
‘The Fox' wore red socks and red braces and was an amiable bandit. I liked him. He cut down on building materials by diverting or 'stealing' bags of cement to other projects, simultaneously billing the absent landlord the correct quantities. No wonder rain was penetrating the walls. This skullduggery can be common in parts of Africa. I know this now. This can lead to structural collapses or buildings being washed away due to short cuts in concrete and steel and regulators being paid off.
After we moved in we had two floods and a fire and a break-in and two snakes in the compound in the first three months. I renamed the house ‘UnLukulay House' which now sat on UnLukulay Drive. ‘The Fox' kept himself engaged applying waterproof paint to the walls. I thanked him for his wisdom and inquired further of the sunken vessel, which somehow had escaped the news. My wardrobe was taking a pounding on a vintage wooden washboard. My ‘unshrinkable' Rohan trousers were slowly moving up my leg.
A geologist came to stay. I could see Charles was nervous about the house. We all were. The evening before Charles arrived a group of bad boys had visited in the middle of the night and made off with a brand new flat screen TV and a DVD player and two sheets and the remote control for the air conditioning unit, and more importantly my ‘Little House on the Prairie' box set.
Fortunately, the bad boys only made access into one bedroom, or it could have been a house clearance. I slept right through, apparently along with my three security guards...
Charles came with his Texan manager to help settle him in. Geologist's always travelling in pairs, like lawyers. His boss enquired of the living arrangements.
"Come on, let's go upstairs," I said. "Charles, this is your room. We had a minor burglary last night, nothing to worry about."
"What happened?"
When providing comfort repeat the name; "Charlie, some thieves cut through the razor wire from next door, dropped 8 feet to the ground. Charlie, they sawed through the metal bars in a downstairs window but couldn't make access."
"I see, what about the security guards?"
I continued, "Don't worry; they're all fine. Charlie, then they cut through the bars on your window with a saw, came into your room and stole your TV and your DVD player and your sheets and the remote control for your air conditioner. They climbed back out and scaled the 8-foot wall into next door carrying their swag Charlie." I said nothing of the box set; didn't want to alarm him.
Charlie appeared in the morning; I didn't know if he'd slept well. I was instantly distracted by his outsized purple footwear. He was wearing a smart shirt and tailored trousers. He looked every inch the professional he was. But what about those purple monstrosities on his feet.
"Charlie, what are those?"
"Er… Crocs."
"Charlie, the only people who should wear crocs, are children under 5 and folk who work in hospitals."
"I've just got to pop upstairs."
Charlie came back down 5 minutes later wearing a pair of solid brown brogues. I felt bad…
"Charlie, only kidding, wear whatever you like in the office. How did you sleep by the way? Please don't worry about security; the old guards have been fired, the new ones doubled."
As my old Drill Sergeant used to say, if in doubt, double the guard.
Charlie Chuckles grinned, laughter didn't come quickly. Might have been nerves.
Four things we never witnessed again. Break-ins. Purple Crocs. The washing machine. And, ‘The Fox', Mr UnLukualy fired him.
A fire? The staff covered in foam and water from errant hoses somehow managed to extinguish the flames. The Freetown Fire Brigade turned up the next day.
'Charlie Drakes' hissing around in the garden? Two of them, a long thin bootlace one and a proper fat black snake. The Divas shrieked in hysteria. Meanwhile, the gardener and security and the cook and the drivers and the house boy would chase around in circles, with whatever came to hand.
Looking back ‘The Sponge' was a particular time, my welcome to Sierra Leone, the memories come flooding back (excuse the pun)...
With special thanks to the cast. Charles, you had a baptism of fire (forgive the pun), and you came through brilliantly like a real professional. And you did laugh, in the end. The Divas, what can I say, don't worry, most people are scared of snakes. 'The Fox' has bounced back and is now the Director of Air Traffic Control at Heathrow. And, last but not least, Mr UnLukulay. We lived in your fine house for 18 months. You've since restored order, and the house is now once again officially Lukulay House on Lukulay Drive. I look forward to seeing you soon...


Friday, 1 April 2016

'Early Morning Run in... Nuremberg'


0630 hrs. Gentle pace to begin. I ease past a fellow jogger. Strange… he's wearing leather lederhosen type shorts with a bib, long socks, a trilby hat, sporting a rather large bushy moustache...

"Guten morgen,” I offer cheerily. No response, how miserable, as he cuts me up on the pavement, shoving me into a bush…

Kidding, there was no bush. I do notice the jaunty grey feather in his green trilby.

Folks, we have a completely unexpected short notice weekend to Germany. Travel here from South Sudan; via Nairobi, Amsterdam, & Paris. One meeting and a trade show.






































Time to slip in a quick run around this wonderful Bavarian city? Of course. Time to wind the clock back with an evening of big beer and big sausages? Of course…

You see I was posted here with the British Army as a young soldier at the end of the 70s, early 80s. The so-called ‘Cold War’. 4 years of waiting for hairy arsed, vodka swilling Ruskies to spill across the German plains.

Germany 1978? At barely 19 you're not ready for a cultural experience, for learning a new language, for exploring Europe... 

A reader wrote recently asking what was the toughest thing I’d ever experienced in the Army? Not necessarily the easiest question to answer. I think it has to be seeing Jim Davidson, tough going… Germany is bringing back memories of my former shipmates… there’s my mate, Corporal Johnny Admin, in the front row…














Arrived Nuremberg 2230 hrs last night. My taxi driver was funny in that German way of ‘funny’. He didn't speak English. Luckily I do have some German. After the aforementioned 4 years in Osnabruck, my British Tommy play book;

Guten tag, wie geht?
Sprichst du Englisch?
Ein bier bitte
Ja, noch ein bier bitte (Yes, another beer please)
Ja, noch ein bier bitte (Yes, another beer please)
Schnellimbiss 
Bratwurst mit pommes frites und mayonnaise bitte
Taxi
Mercer Kaserne, bitte (Mercer Barracks, please)
Wie viel... sie scherzen? (How much... you're kidding?)
Bandido (bandido)
Wonderbra (wonderful)
Danke, auf Wiedersehen

I ask the rather stout driver if he takes credit cards. Ja, he does. He's sat in his big cream Mercedes with the heater on full blast wearing a huge leather parka with the collar up. German taxi drivers don't do layering. He obviously says to himself, in German, let me show you what a great driver I am and how fast this baby can go. The only thing missing, which would have transported me directly back to 1980, was Boney M, or perhaps The Goombay Dance Band. 

Traffic is light allowing us to hit high speeds and change lanes at will. He now says & signs with his hands there's a problem with credit cards, needs to be at least €25 on the meter. No problem I say and sign back, just keep speeding round in circles, we'll get there... bandido…

First thing to point out is the temperature swing. 42C in Juba last week, this morning 2C with snow earlier. Second is I'm completely ill equipped. I wonder, other joggers in dirty sandy coloured trainers, shorts, with street clothes added to a T shirt for extra layers? Probably not...

I'm taken an Airbnb 3 kms south of downtown. Let's head towards town... freezing by the way, my hands, fingers... need to get a wiggle on this morning… 

I'm setting myself a target of writing this post without reverting to any cheap German stereotyping. Let's see how I do...

A real quick run today, pausing only briefly for a few photos to bring Nuremberg to life for you. Mission? Find a good cafe for brekkie. Perhaps a gym for tomorrow, and most importantly a Bavarian style restaurant with the requisite big sausages and big beer for later this evening... keep your eyes peeled...

So, let’s go… I've seen off the fellow with the grand facial hair. Heading towards the old city. Cobbled streets and mostly pedestrianised. It's early and public transport everywhere. Trams, and an underground. The city, home to around 500,000 souls, is beautiful. A staggering amount of churches and old fortifications near a fine looking castle. I weave back and forwards over a meandering river. All blends in wonderfully. Liking Nuremberg.






































Not too many fellow joggers for company, mind you barely 0700 hrs and bleedin chilly. I run through the main square. All cobbled, about the size of 4 football pitches. I've read they’ve a substantial Christmas market annually. The square sits beautifully, with great architecture and churches mixing with higher end retail.

Ah, now, this looks like the place.



I’m already picturing wooden benches. Packed. Boisterous atmosphere. Well rounded blond frauleins, some with moustaches, all with pigtails, in white frilly low blouses who can carry 3 giant foaming beers in each hand. Leather attire everywhere. Checked shirts. Red braces. Thumping great bratwursts. Kenny Loggins soundtrack. David Hasselhoff. Different these days? Hope not…

That’s for later. 20 mins into the run, feeling slightly less cold. Going OK this morning considering 5 hours sleep and 9 hours yesterday cooped up next to the tail gunner. A fellow jogger glides past me, with a self satisfied look. He hasn't, he looks perfectly normal. My imagination wanted him to be smug. He’s appropriately dressed with thin running gloves, a beanie (wish I had one), running tights, all layered up. In response I turn up the collar on my short sleeved polo shirt, my outer layer. Try to respond and match his pace. He’s lucky this time, I have to stop for another photo. The blog comes first… see what I mean about the architecture?



25 mins. Need to start heading back. I lift the pace. Can’t get Herr Loggins out of my mind. But then, I've got this feeling... that times are holding me down... I'll hit the ceiling... or else I'll tear up this town... perhaps cut loose, footloose… let's push on back…

Arrive back at Cristina’s Airbnb (thanks, you were a fabulous host) with just over 40 mins on the clock. A great run in uplifting surroundings. Light years away from Juba. Feels fantastic to be back in Europe, albeit for a weekend.

P.S. So, come on? How was ‘Bratwurst Roslein’ last night?

Well, the place was jam packed as expected. I was guided to a bench by a server who said she’d checked with the opposite diner and all was fine. I was sharing. Sit down, go straight into my British Tommy play book. Low and behold this fellow, in the leather jacket, isn’t Herr Smit from Bavaria. He’s Herr Wee Robbie, a short arse ginger nut from Glasgow. Here for a trade show apparently.

I have to close with a line from PJ Wodehouse, who once said that it's never difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine. How true... thanks Wee Robbie… you made me laugh. A lot. Wonderbra. A top night, rounded off with a couple of snapps… see you all back in Africa…

Es ist schon nehmen Sie ein Vergnugen, um Nuremberg. Ich liebe Deutsche Volk. Danke, auf Wiedersehen.

@roadrunnertns


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Another… ‘Early Morning Run in… Juba’

Let's sing...

On a dark desert highway, hot wind in my hair
Warm smell of cow poo, rising up through the air
Ahead in the distance... back in Juba…




0645 hrs. Southern Sudan. Folks, we have the youngest guest runner to-date. Let me introduce 32-year-old ‘Otto’. “Otto, good morning, what detergent are you using by the way, those shorts have shrunk?” Otto self consciously tries to make his tiny Ron Hill’s appear bigger. We exchange greetings. Otto looks lean, he looks fit, he has a spring to his step and that certain boyish enthusiasm. This might well be a little slicker than usual.

When you run in a small group, or pairs, it can mirror life; you’re either the hammer or the nail. I wonder… damn, why didn’t I ask Fred, the chubby Swedish fellow…




Walk through the double set of serious looking security gates at Acacia Village. TIJ. This is Juba. Otto is compound manager. We turn immediately right and head north, along ‘Sandy Lane’. Already 28C, later a high of 42C. Run early, or not at all. Otto had suggested we run up Jebel Lodge. He said we could easily do it in an hour. Great idea I said, but let’s do my regular 35 mins circuit today, around the ‘hood’. Do the mountain another year…

Yes, back in Juba working a task with an old partner, ‘Ops’. I actually wanted 2 guest runners this morning, ‘Ops’ actually wanted more sleep this morning. We’re based 8 kms west of downtown. An ordinary poor district of Juba. This area surely has more heart. More soul.

We’re in Gudele II. There are no street names. I’m naming this first one ‘Sandy Lane’. An uneven dirt track. The houses either side are a mixture of brick and traditional. Traditional meaning mud and wood. There’s rubbish everywhere, mostly plastic.




There’s a virtual menagerie around us. Ducks. Chickens. Sheep. Goats. Dogs. Even cows with huge curly horns being led by youths. Poo everywhere. Plenty to take in. All senses engaged.

“Otto, that’s a strange nickname?” “What’s the story?” Otto tells me a tale from his childhood where some idiot takes out plenty of Europeans queuing at a chair lift. Bodies, poles and skis everywhere. ‘Otto’ is shamed, blamed and named, it stuck. The full name apparently, ‘Otto, you little bugger’.

A luack, ahead left at 10 o clock. A fenced off cattle area, about 40 of the huge curly horned variety waking up. Luacks dot the neighbourhood. Some kids stand on the fence poles gazing in. We turn right into ‘Sandy Square’, heading east. The sun rising majestically.


Plenty of kids in simple uniforms walking to school. A few vehicles too, mostly motorbike taxis – boda boda’s. “Kerwadja”, “Kerwadja”. The word follows us everywhere. Repeat it back, makes things worse. “Kerwadja”, particularly enchanting when the toddlers say it. A wall of sound… “White man, white man.”

Swing left and head north again. We’re on ‘Sandy Drive’. The sight of 2 white fellows, one of whom looks questionable, prancing through their district must be amusing. Apart from poo there’s the more pleasant whiff of charcoal as morning chop is prepared, also the occasional scent of sweetened chicory type coffee. I need my morning Joe…

Some children run and hide behind their mothers. For most, it’s “Kerwadja.” A few say “good morning”, no matter the time of day. Repeat everything and have fun with the kids, feels pretty interactive this morning.


 “I’m enjoying this run Otto, does Swedish Fred jog?” “What, never?” Forget for a moment about weaving Abba lyrics into the post… problem… at 12 o clock, ahead…

… stray dogs. Running in the evening can be preferable, when the pesky hounds have been zapped by the daily furnace, hotter here at that time than the devils waiting room. We’re quickly doing an impression from River Dance. Michael Flatley’s feet haven’t moved this fast. Couple of locals laugh and come to our rescue. They pick-up and toss baked poo to see the mutts off. I thank them… however, stop short of shaking mitts. Mutts and mitts, let’s push on…

Reminds me, Ops and I need to visit upcountry but options are limited. Many roads / areas are unsafe. Fortunately, yesterday I found a reliable helicopter charter company. The words of my oil & gas safety mentor, Randy Splash, echoed as I inspected the cockpit and rotors. “Safety. Safety. Safety.” Randy, this machine has everything; it’s in great shape. Randy, I know you’re focusing on one of those hoses, fret not, being replaced as I type. More importantly, need to manage these fellows down on price...

Otto is like the Skippy the bush kangaroo, very springy, very chatty. He tells me he’s been in Juba 9 months and had been in the Territorial Army with 4 Para, as he went through university. Pace is good, I’m the nail this morning…

As we get deeper into the hood, the mix of houses turn more traditional. The kids don’t relent. I don’t want them to. Makes for a happy run. This is a poor area; no power, no water, few facilities. However, there feels a real sense of community. We enjoy a wonderful reception. This area most definitely has more heart and soul.

Has anything changed in South Sudan since the previous visit last Oct? Well… the peace process rumbles on. Country now completely bankrupt. Currency has been devalued more than once. Most business has folded. Little outside investment. Civilians being attacked and killed when supposedly under protection of the UN. Prices increase daily… but, hold the front page… the 2 main protagonists, who began all this in Dec 2013, are kissing and making up… what can possibly go wrong…

So. Really. Any hope? Strangely, I think there is. I feel more positive this time than 5 months ago. Maybe, it’s these simple folk here in Gudele II. Maybe, no further to fall. Maybe, leaders can put egos aside. Maybe, they can filter out bad advice from their ‘loyal’ courtiers. Maybe, cease vested interests. Maybe, forget splitting the country into tribal thiefdoms, sorry… I mean chiefdoms… to control territory and resources. Maybe, work together for the greater good. Simples. Maybe…

Finally, we’re heading at a good pace south along ‘Desert Highway’. Ahead in the distance, is there a shimmering light? Yes, all around us. “Kerwadja… Kerwadja….”




Here’s a young family from ‘Desert Highway’, the future…

Thank you to everyone in our adopted neighbourhood. Last Oct when downtown we often felt as welcome as a Jehovah’s Witness at the front door on a Friday evening. You know the drill; you’ve a second glass of something chilled, feet up… “you answer the door, I went last time…” 30 secs later… “Darling…,” a head appears around the living room door, “we’ve a ‘Code Red’…”






We’re pushing on now, heading up towards Mundri Road. The twin masts of the main telecom provider is where we’ll warm down, jogging steadily to the finish. The masts stand out along with the brightly pink coloured walls. The Zain tag line wraps this post nicely, Louis take us out…

“I see skies of blue and clouds of white. The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night. And I think to myself what... “



Enjoyed this 28 mins run (35 mins previously), thanks Otto… great fun. Good luck to you & the team at Acacia Village. Stay safe. However, if my optimism is misplaced then please remember what my old drill Sergeant used to say when all else fails, “keep low and move fast,” he’d bellow. You might recall my old drill Sergeant’s wisdom from an earlier post, he said to always expect the unexpected. I miss him, he was killed by a low flying teradactyl a few years back, in Basingstoke town centre…

We opened with The Eagles? When I worked oil and gas there's a cycle of investment in any project. The final part was the exit strategy. In Africa we called this the ‘Hotel California Syndrome’, in that; ‘you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…’ Exiting, for any number of reasons from Africa, can be difficult…

I’m exiting, for a weekend at least. Heading from Juba to Germany. What a contrast. An ‘Early Morning Run in… Nuremberg’, could well be on the cards… and soon…

Do pass on the link or put on your Facebook (sis?); www.roadrunnertns.blogspot.com

Wrap up warm, see you in Bavaria…

T: @roadrunnertns

P.S. Back to UK for Easter in a couple of weeks. Reminds me, I must drag my tight-fisted Scottish neighbour up a nearby Jebel…