Had a browse through my old sketch pad that tipped up during the recent loft sort out and came across this gem.
Who is Frank Ryan? I can’t remember. It was drawn during my overland gig across Africa which makes it more mysterious. I google the name and find Frank Ryan, celebrity plastic surgeon who died in 2010 after driving his car off a cliff in Malibu, while tweeting about his dog Jill. (Jill survived with mild injury). Too young to be this Frank Ryan, but a salutary tale about tweeting about the dog while driving.
The only plausible Frank Ryan is the controversial Irish republican. I deduce this through a vague likeness to the drawing in google images, and then remember a couple of deeply political Dublin boys we met along the way all those years ago.
Back to the overland trip and a tale of (more) silliness, crime and a clothes swap. So, the truck is in West Africa, parked up in Lome where, for the first time since leaving Chalfont St Peter, a couple of months before, we were going to camp for seven nights on the coast while some truck repairs were done.
Whooo hooo!!!! It was great. Beautiful sea, lovely people (especially the kids), a chance to wash off some dust and enjoy not driving for 10 hours a day, every day. Because we didn’t pack up after a night, as usual, the bizarre landscape of our malaria nets, rigged up from makeshift lines, became visible.
Brad was happy, as he was reunited with his beloved ocean, and there was (rare) harmony in the group. Mid week, Geeky Chris and Lucy returned from town excited. They’d met a lovely brother and sister in the supermarket, gone to their house and swapped clothes. Lucy had a beautiful West African pagne she’d swapped for a Top Shop t-shirt.
Once in West Africa, there was a comforting shift to green lushness, the odd elephant and unlimited advocados. It was invigorating and the sleeping bags in the back of the truck disappeared as we sat up, enjoying the journey again. We stopped at Lome, the capital of Togo with the largest fetish/voodoo market in the world and spent an afternoon, browsing bones and skulls – many still decomposing – blood, wood, carvings, figurines, ringing bells, smells and strangeness. Continue reading →
From Tamanrasset we travelled South towards Mali. Relentlessly. It seems bizarre now, looking back, but the trip was tedious and boring. Mike-A was obsessively focused on getting the truck to the end point (Nairobi) and used every daylight hour on the road. A few of us got into the habit of getting up for breakfast around 6.30am (stale baguettes, jam or peanut butter), then clambering back into sleeping bags in the back of the truck to snooze till lunchtime (stale baguettes…). Passing slowly through miles and miles of Sahel with little changing scenery, hardly interacting with anyone off the truck, was an odd experience. Detached and unsettling.
I didn’t know anything about ethnography when I signed up for this overland trippet all those years ago (for the previous episode click here), but it was a missed opportunity to explore how a group of strangers live together in a mobile unit, in/across unfamiliar spaces with a changing cast of additional characters. Some of whom were quite short-lived.
Part 3 of the overland saga and I’ve even grubbed around in the attic for my old sketch pad.
Sleeping. By the time we reached the desert we slept where we lay our sleeping mats. Scattered around the truck in two’s and three’s. Generally as far from the canoodling couples as possible. There were no roads, just space. It was pretty cold at night, so we’d bundle up in sleeping bags and doze off watching the shooting stars party.
The thing with going on an overland trip in a Bedford truck is speed. It doesn’t really go more than about 40 miles an hour and Chalfont St. Peter to Kenya is quite a long way. A routine quickly set in. Up around 6.30am, bit of nosh then drive till lunchtime, bit of nosh, then park and camp and nosh around 6.30pm.
June 11, 1988. The Nelson Mandela Wembley concert was live on TV. Tracy Chapman was haunting. The following week an ad in the back of Time Out, advertising a trip from England to Kenya. A couple had bought an old Bedford truck and were looking for passengers.
September 21st, 1988. About twenty of us set off from their gaff at Chalfont St Peter.