Archive for October, 2007

The Italian Job – No1 When Will I learn?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

Every now and then two jobs come up than can sort of be tied together and done at the same time.  This can be hand in saving time and money, that’s the little businessman talking!  However, everytime I do this it goes tits up for one reason or another and every time I come back from a job I say never again.  A bit like drinking really.

Last week was a great example.  Job 1 – Go to Italy collect valuable painting from a house near Rome and take it to the UK.  How difficult can that be.  Job 2 check out a place about 100 miles south of Rome and see if an 85 year old man was there,  and,  if he is make sure he was Ok and maybe try to get him to go back home to Blighty.   Again how hard can that be, what could go wrong.  I get paid to pick up a valuable painting and an old bloke.  Paintings aren’t like kids and dogs, they don’t wander off or get good ideas on you.  Old folks can be a touch difficult as can all people, but I mean what sort of stroke could an old man of 85 pull!

Now then I left on the 20th and I allowed 1 day either end of the trip for travelling, 2 days for the old man and 1 day for the painting plus a day for cock ups  or down time.  Perfect, except that I got back at about 1am this morning ie ten days later.

It has been an interesting and somewhat bizarre ten days, and that’s coming from me.

Dead Again!

Friday, October 19th, 2007

My Bank and telephone company are hell bent on keeping me dead, despite the fact that I feel fine.  However amusing this is at times, I can tell you that being dead is quite inconvenient.  I have been told that I am alive again by the bank but the phone people are not so sure.

Any way apart from that I am off to Italy  tomorrow to do a little job.

Deadness permitting I should be back on line in about 7 to 10 days.  In the meantime stay lucky.


Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Around 300 million people worldwide are affected by Malaria and 1.5 million people die every year from this illness.    The majority who die are the children of Africa. Deaths linked to malaria in Africa are on the increase due to changes in the environment, movement of populations arising from political instability and civil strife.  The mortality rate has not been helped by the resistance of malaria to common and inexpensive medicines, resistance of mosquitoes to insecticides, and limitations in national health services.

Malaria keeps Africa’s people poor. It prevents adults from working and children from attending school. Each year a family spends several months’ earnings on malaria treatment and prevention. Malaria during pregnancy is also of great concern, since it adversely affects the mother’s health and may result in a baby born too small to survive.

Forget your Tsunamis, 9/11, 7/11, Islamic Jihads, Cancer, AIDs, Murderers, heart disease, smoking, drunk drivers or kids not wearing a crash helmet on their bikes.

Malaria remains the biggest killer in the world, yet you never see anyone collecting money for Malaria Charities do you?

I wonder why?

Having sorted out our hostage job, the team split up and the majority headed back to the UK by different routes.  However,  I had decided that as I was so near and as  it was her birthday, I would visit my big sister in Kaduna,  which is North Central Nigeria.

I use the term “near” in the African sense of the word of course as it is in fact about 1300km away from where I was.  What I mean is, that globally speaking, I was sort of in the neighbourhood, and besides which, it had been a while.  Of course I had not bargained on having a travelling companion, but Marianne the French Journalist was reluctant to be parted from me, a sentiment I could understand if I was a George Clooney look a like, but as I am not it was a little harder to understand.

Anyway, we got a flight to Lagos, hung around a bit and then another internal flight to Kaduna.  When I have been on these jaunts “abroad” people always say “Oh Norman you are so lucky to travel with your work”  Most people of course don’t know the exact nature of my work, and most cannot imagine the nature of the majority of travelling I do.  I know they have a mental image of UN reclining in the first class section of a luxurious wide bodied jet, heading somewhere exotic, and being served champagne and canapés, whilst watching the in flight movie with the charismatic and very smooth George C.

The reality is that I am usually en route to place they have never heard of and to more abject human misery.  In the process of getting there I often share my travelling arrangements with a vast number of goats, chickens and a variety of weirdos- most of who I have chosen to work with, but that’s not always the case.

We got to Kaduna quite late, butwithout incident.  It was a long haul and very hot and Frenchie was dead tired. Cyclops had booked me in at a hotel earlier in the week but had been unable to arrange an extra room for the traumatised French lady.  I did not think it would be too much trouble to get an extra room but I was wrong.  So we were forced into continuing our rather odd domestic arrangement and for some reason she was  pleased at not having to spend time on her own.  Apart from being good looking and having a wonderful pair of breasts (two fine girls as the Minx would say) she is quite easy company and so there was no strain.  Apart from when she had complained about my snoring, until I pointed out that it was my bed and it could be worse, it could be wind.

“If it bothers you just hold my nose till I shut up, dig me in the ribs or roll me over” I said.

“Ah non I cannot do that, it is cruel” she said in her so French accent

“No its not, I guarantee it will not wake me up and I will not regard it as being cruel.  Okay?” I reassured her

“Okay,  but….err”

“But what?” I asked

“What  if I snore?” She enquired hesitantly

“Madame, let me say, that you are a perfect bed partner and would never snore and if you did , I would revel in the music of your slumber”

“Oh Norman are you sure you are not French you are almost a poet?” she said slightly mockingly.

“Oh quite sure my petit chou-fleur”

“But you are so…..”

“But you do fart” I interjected

She gave me a playful slap and for the first time since we had rescued her she actually smiled, nay almost laughed.  Progress

So let me tell you a bit about Kaduna.  Well first off it is quite a big place and I think the official population is somewhere around 350.000 people.  However this is West Africa and it is hard getting th figure right and it could be a 100,000 higher.  It is the home of the Nigerian Military academy , is the administrative centre for this region of the country and is an important industrial and manufacturing centre.  It has always been a very important market place.

Unfortunately it is a town divided by religion.  Forget the troubles in Northern Ireland, that was kids play compared to this place.

The Christians live in the south and the Muslims live in the North.  For years everyone managed to sort of tick along.  It was not perfect but everyone got by, well,  more or less.

Then in 2001 the Islamic Sharia laws were implemented and there was serious wide scale violence both before and after.  In 2000  over 1000 people were killed in Kaduna during one riot alone.  A very very uneasy truce exists at the moment but sporadic violence erupts at anytime.   There was violence against churches and mosques and a lot of clergy were killed rather brutally.  I know being killed is never too nice, but being hacked to death is, in my book,  a pretty bad way to pop your clogs.

So that’s a bit about Kaduna.

The next day I was up early to visit my sister is in the south of the city.  I was woken just before door by the voice of  muezzin echoed from the minaret of the central mosque calling the faithful to prayer.  I know its not the done thing to say this in Britain or the USA, and as a left footer I am probably committing a mortal sin, but I always loved hearing the call to prayer.  As a little boy it would wake my sister and I in the morning and would often be the last things we would hear before going to sleep in the evening.

“Allah is defined as the ONE who ALONE, without partners or helpers created all that IS created in creation, either known or unknown.”
1 Allah u Akbar, Allah u Akbar
— Allah is Great, Allah is Great

2-Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah – Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah
— I bear witness that there is no divinty but Allah

3 Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan Rasulullaah
— I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger

Ash-hadu anna Muhammadan Rasulullaah.
— I bear witness that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger

4 Hayya la-s-saleah – Hayya la-s-saleah
– Hasten to the prayer, Hasten to the prayer

5 Hayya la-l-faleah – Hayya la-l-faleah
— Hasten to real success, Hasten to real success,

6 Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar
— Allah is Great, Allah is Great

7 La Ilaha ill Allah
— There is no divinity but Allah

The sentiment is not so different to the Creed when you think about it, but hey what the fuck do I know.  Norman the Theologian – rather catchy title.

I digress.

I got to her early,  and jeeeeez it was bloody hot already.  A different type of heat to where I had been yesterday.  It felt much hotter, drier,  a real unforgiving heat.  I sat by her under the shade of  a tree and talked.

Obviously the first thing to say was I am sorry it was so long since I had been.

A rare breeze blew through the leaves.  Of course she understood.  It was a bit out of the way after all.

I was pleased to see that there was no obvious signs of damage or desecration around her after all the trouble that had gone on.

I told her about what had been going on with me although she probably knew most of my gossip.  I told her about Alison and the girls and had some framed photos to leave.

I yakked on about L and the nieces and nephews and what a great bunch of kids they were and how I thought things were getting better for me.

I had brought photos of every Tom Dick and little Norman as you tend to do and I probably went into far too much boring detail, but I didn’t want to miss anything out.

I suppose I was there for about two hours, when I heard the sound of foot steps on the gravel path.  There were two men, both Muslims, one was about my age but thinner and the other a tall silver heard man in his seventies.

They looked at me with hard eyes and the old man said

“Assalamu Alaykum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh” (May the peace of Allah descend upon you and His Mercy and Blessings).

I returned the greeting, slightly surprised as this is the pre Islamic greeting, and as far as I know not much used these days.  Under Islamic law “Salam” should not be used to a none Muslim.

Then without warning the younger man came straight towards me and grabbed my right hand forcefully with his,  the next thing I knew,  his left arm was around my neck and his hand was on my shoulder in a powerful bone cracking hold.  I returned the assault and grabbed him back and we stood there locked in a tight grapple.

He pushed me back slightly and looked directly into my eyes.

Then he smiled like an ugly black Cheshire cat and then we kissed on both cheeks before he  embraced me again.

This was Edward my first, oldest and best friend.

The older man came towards us.

“Norman I am so glad you came” said the old man “It has been a very long time”

“Hello Mister Banting ” I shook his hand and bowed to show the older man the proper respect but he held out his arms and embraced me, kissing me gently on the cheek and stroking my head like my father used to.  He held me for what seemed and age and everything was as it was when I was here when I was six.

“It has been too long Mister Banting, but I am so glad to see you both and to see you looking so well”

“And hansom” He chided me.  “You have grown” he said slightly surprised

“Yes well that happens but now its outwards not upwards” I laughed  “Its called middle age”

“Hah” he scorned “You’re still a cheeky little boy to me and him” – Pointing to Edward -“Is still as mad as Jimmy Rickets goat”. Jimmy Rickets was friend of my dad’s who had an exceptional mad goat.  In goat terms I think he would have been a Kray.

We sat under the tree and talked.  When my dad first lived in Nigeria in the early 50’s before I was born,  Banting worked for him.  He was a house boy and his job was to clean and cook.  I suppose Banting was about 20 at the time,  and the term boy although standard form of address back then sounds so derogatory now.   Mind you the term cook was equally misleading.  Banting had unique domestic management skills.  His cooking was legendary or should I say infamous!  The other people working for the Colonial Office could not see why my dad kept him on, but the simple fact was they liked each other and were friends.  Edward was named after my dad, and I know that my dad never ever forgot his birthday and always sent gave him a Christmas present.  Edward is a bit younger than me but only by a year or so and we spent our early years together.  We were and still are great friends.

They told me their news and I told them mine.  Bayo, Edwards sister now had three children but the youngest one was sick with Malaria.  I did not know that Banting’s wife Abeo had died suddenly earlier this year.  They were sorry to hear about my mother

“She is in a better place” said Banting nodding his head and sounding more English than the English. And so we chatted on.

I Looked around.

“The place looks really good” I said “And the flowers are lovely you have done a great job keeping on top of things, it can’t be easy”

“Ah yes we do them every week. it gets a bit tricky sometime whenit is so hot and some of niggers don’t control their damn goats” said Edward frowning.  Then je stopped and said suddenly  “And I still grow freesias for her birthday. I used to get the bulbs from Father Burns until he erm died….well was erm killed…you know….” he was embarrassed that a mutual acquaintance had been hacked to death in the name of religion.  In this case his, but it could have been ours ” But now” he continued ” The new fella gets them for me.”

“Its a bit of a risk for you isn’t it?” I said

“Hahahaha Noooo she’s worth it,  besides I promised Dr Edward and my best friend to look after his sister and that is what God would want” He laughed. “Besides you would do the same thing, now wait here”

He walked back down the path towards the gate and reappeared a few seconds later clutching  a pot of freesias.  His pleasure and pride at growing these flowers for my sister glowed from him.

He passed me the pot of flower.

As I stood there under the tree it struck me how time and circumstance alters perspective and how your memory plays tricks on you.  In a UK florist or supermarket those flowers would have looked like a straggly small bunch, you would probably sneer and think “Why bother”.   In the scorching heat of the late morning sun, the little pot of flowers were a vibrant highly scented bouquet.  It also struck me that when I was a little boy,  my sister was always much bigger than me, but then of course she would be because she was two years older than me. I always think of my sisters 9th birthday,  because that was the day she died of Malaria. Today her grave in the Christian cemetery seemed so small, yet it was immaculately, lovingly  tendered not by two “Muslims”, but by two kind loving friends.

“Happy Birthday M”

Kidnapped 14 – Karma

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

fter my visit to O’Hara everything went a bit quite. JR got back to the UK safe and sound and after a few weeks R&R was up and running again.

We all made our way home without incident really. I had another trip to make to visit my sister.

The Belgian authorities collected Mr Rogirst and we made him out to be victim and hero. It would seem that his luck changed after this. The authorities decided there was insufficient evidence to link him to his brothers ill fated business venture In fact he even got some of the money back that he had leant him, but had to pay some tax that was due. He had got back together with his wife, but to be honest I am not sure how long that was going to last

Marianne the French Journalist was fairly shaken up. The two days she was with us before we left she was in a bad way mentally, but improved. She had not been raped fortunately but this incident proved to be an emotional watershed for her. You will forgive me if I don’t go into anymore details than that. I can tell you that she came from a fairly wealthy family and they had put up a reward for her safe return, which was an added bonus. However when it came to her being handed over to the French authorities she was not willing to go with them and insisted on staying with me. It is not that uncommon in hostage cases for them to bond to their rescuers. Trauma and stress take their toll in different ways. In the end she came with me on the trip to visit my sister and I returned to the UK via France and took her home. It was the first time in my life that I have ever remotely resembled a babe magnet. I am pleases to say that she has spent the summer recovering and is doing very well indeed.

As for Arthur Daley, well the following tells its own story

ABUJA, July 20 (Reuters) – Suspected armed robbers shot dead a Lebanese businessman in the southern Nigerian city of Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta, the local police commissioner said on Friday.

He said the robbers locked the apartment block’s security guard inside his post and entered the Lebanese man’s house, took some of his belongings and shot him dead.

Kidnappings of foreigners are frequent in the oil-producing delta but it is unusual for expatriates to get killed.

Since September there was a military crackdown by the military on the main group believed to be responsible for the kidnapping. After a couple of weeks there was cease fire but that did not last long and by October it had all kicked off again, with a full on attack on an oil installation which left three people dead and several other seriously injured.

The Army has continued to try to stamp its authority on the region, but unless there is a politicla and social change I cannot see much progress being made. This has all the ingredients of becoming Africa’s next big civil war.

So what about O’Hara?

Well, I tried ringing him a couple of times to say goodbye, but it would seem he was unavailable to take my call. Strange that.  So I rang the company and they said that he was “in the field”.  Then his car was found abandoned by a police patrol and it would appear he had been kidnapped.  A ransom demand was made to the company, but apparently “they had no protocol for dealing with these people” What the fuck! who the hell are they trying to kid? Anyway he didn’t have kidnap insurance and his missus was having trouble stumping up the ransom. It would seem that the US property crisis had taken its toll on their little nest egg and she could not or would not raise the wedge to get him released.

The following Reuters report was brought to myattention

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Nigerian troops found the corpse of a man believed to be a foreign hostage floating in a creek on Saturday near a village where five people died in fighting this week, a military spokesman said.

Kidnapping of foreign workers has become commonplace in the Niger Delta, a vast wetlands region which is home to Africa’s largest oil industry, but hostages are almost always freed unharmed in exchange for money.

“The joint task force were in operation around the creeks of Ogbogoro and Ozuoba when they sighted a corpse of a white man floating on the river,” said Sagir Musa, a spokesman for the military in the Niger Delta.

There was no positive identification of the victim, he said, but his hands were tied behind his back and his mouth was obstructed.

“He apparently died from being tortured because he was kidnapped,” Musa said.I dont know for sure that this was O’Hara, but apparently two subsequent reports tend to suggest it was, especially the one saying that the only thing he had on him was a playing card.

If it was O’Hara I dont know what could have happened.  He was fit and and well when we left him.

Not very happy I will grant you, but alive.

Oh come on, you didn’t think we would be so nice as to just give him a quick end did you?

Karma, what goes around comes around.