The History of My Luggage

Chapter 5 Part 3Chapter 5 Part 2

Posted by Graham Thompson Fri, August 24, 2018 12:06:06

Perhaps I should explain here in a little more detail about my ailment, or rather ailments, in order to make clear just exactly what kind of test I was putting these healers through. And have I neglected to tell you about our main man in Africa – the “Senator”? Well first my own problems. I may have told you about my fear of flying and the strange condition which I call “aeroplanitis”. Well I certainly told my American friend Lotte. In brief I found it difficult to fly because I always re-ignited the state I suffered on my original flight back from Africa some five years before when I had become seriously ill with vomiting and diarrhoea. After hospitalization in St. Pancras Tropical Diseases Unit with severe dysentery, I nearly died from the most intense fever. It took me six months in all to recover, but my liver was never the same after a double infection of my intestines by e coli bacteria and schigella. They had probably come from a meal I had eaten in the so called best Chinese restaurant in Nairobi. I never did completely recover, often lapsed into states of complete exhaustion, and always suffered with back pains, which I put down to the junk that my liver failed to cope with then forcing its way through my kidneys. However, despite numerous tests in the previous four years, the doctors could find nothing wrong with my liver function or kidneys. When I had decided to move to Denmark, my contact there Dr. Strindberg had put me in touch with Dr. Herschenberger Kirkegaard, who was the foremost expert in tropical infections of this kind. It was at a time when my exhaustion and sometimes mental confusion were at their highest, and even my skin had this waxy yellowish appearance. In Copenhagen this doctor ran a series of intensive tests on me and we became good friends, so good that eventually he agreed to join our secret circle of research and support. The tests revealed nothing yet again, there was no physical cause as far as he could tell for my condition – yet he also could see that I had all the symptoms of a mild jaundice and damaged liver. He sent me to one more doctor, his own teacher, who had officially retired but had his own private clinic in the suburbs of northern Copenhagen, where he treated “unusual cases” as HK put it. He was, before he died one year later, but really still is, known as one of the world's foremost experts in tropical diseases, recognized by everyone from the WHO to the John Hopkins University. But here I shall merely call him Dr. D. Dr. D. gave me an even more thorough examination than HK, especially the physical exam. After running a couple week's worth of tests to my blood and bodily emissions, he too came up with no physical cause for my condition. What he then told me and proposed for my cure truly astonished me, particularly because he was such an experienced and reputable medic. He said: “This is not a physical illness but a spiritual one. You became sick in Africa. I believe you have to return there to become healed. You have told me about some of the traditional healers you met down there – maybe you should go to them and find your cure.” These words changed my life because they put me on the path back to Africa, not only to find my own cure, but also to start on my research, the herbal cure for a disease which was much more deadly than anything I had suffered. I had already by that time of my tests under Dr. D., started my research into herbal cures, but up until then it was with a detachment and distance that made it just another piece of pure research. After his diagnosis, and during my next visit to Tanzania I was sent by one of my own respondents – a shaman and traditional herbalist in the Pare mountains – down to the coast where, while researching lowland coastal plants indicated by the Pare healer, I literally bumped into the “Senator”. He had been given this name by his tribe because before his being called to be a medicine man he had been his tribe's main representative to the old Bureau of Tribal Affairs under the British rule. Mbunge, to give him his proper name, was working with a German doctor in a small rural hospital, and the shaman was using his own herbs to help cure the disease that had already killed millions. It was amazing that the German doctor had persuaded his local African staff to accept the wizened little old man into the hospital, where he cooked up his cure and administered it to hundreds of local people stricken by the disease. The results were promising – but not yet sufficiently documented and tested as to lead to the German doctor publishing them. This was made more difficult by the fact that many of those infected and treated by Mbunge had been working outside of their home area, then they frequently disappeared, especially after being cured; most of those who got better returned to their jobs in the big cities. It was far from being a scientic trial of the herbal treatments. In any case he faced a dilemma – if he did publish the positive results, there would come a stampede of patients, of the media, and yes, drug companies from all over the world, and this might destroy the fragile relationship he had with Mbunge, as well as being a real test for that backward rural community in the Tanzanian bush. He persuaded me that it was better to wait longer, to be more sure of the efficacy of the treatment, and then to decide what to do. The German doctor, who was that very same one I mentioned earlier, from Bremen – I shall call him Dr. Schutz but that, of course is not his real name - was a remarkable man, a heiloprakter, quite alternative in his ideas, and he had more faith in this old healer than in drug companies or ministries of health. He was all for a softly softly approach and letting things develop slowly and naturally. This then gave me the idea – why, in any case, should we have to go through the pharmaceuticals? Why not slowly put together an alternative route of supply once the herbal cure proved valid, why not get together a circle of alternative healers and herbalists through which the cure could be administered first in Europe and then in the States. But at this point I had only just met Mbunge, the potential miracle man, and later had been taken by Schutz to his even more remote home in the bush. It was a bumpy 30 kilometre motorbike ride over rutted and untarmaced tracks before we reached his village from the hospital. I first realized that I had to get the confidence of the “Senator” if I wanted to get the details of his “cure”, which would be difficult as this was only our second time of meeting, the first being a short introduction at the hospital the day before. We sat on those typical battered three-legged stools outside his mud and daub hut with its coconut frond roof, Mbunge's chickens waltzing between our legs and his wife serving us beans and rice in little metal bowls. Mbunge looked like anything but a “Senator” - he was barely five foot tall, with a face beaten into deep lines by the tropical sun, and an old and battered muslim cap perched on a scalp now barely covered by tufts of loose greying curls. But his mind was as sharp as the machete that lay beside him. I could not speak Mbunge's language, though it was a distant cousin to one of the languages I had learnt pretty well during my Ph.D. fieldwork more than ten years before. So Schutz translated for us, he knew the language quite well, our understanding supported by our common knowledge of Swahili, which Mbunge spoke, but did not like to use. But it was sometimes useful when points needed clarification. In this halting way we came to discuss the ingredients for his herbal cure used in the hospital. Mbunge was reluctant to discuss its preparation in detail, he wanted control over it and seemed to share some of the fears of Schutz about what might happen if it escaped his control. In fact he was a real shaman – he told me the recipe had come to him in a dream, and that his spirits had told him how to prepare it and what it was for. Not only that, but he had also seen in his dreams that Schutz would come to him and was instantly ready to help him treat the numerous patients in his hospital. But of course he refused to show me or give me samples of the three main plants that he used. Then I had my brainwave – would he at least tell me the names of the plants in his own language? To this, I thanked my lucky spirit, he readily agreed, probably thinking I had no way of knowing any link between the names he then gave me and the specific identity of the plants. I knew there was a potential method of identifying the plants. But my reason for doing so was not primarily to find the recipe for the cure – not at first – but to gain the trust and respect of Mbunge. As far as I knew there was no research done on his own tribe's herbal knowledge, certainly no book in which I could look up a Latin name directly from the names he had given me. In fact I later checked with the Traditional Medicine Research Unit in the capital, but they had no information on the local names for the three plants, even after a thorough search of their library. I did not explain what these plants were for in case my contact there – a Dr. Mtoni – decided to follow up and independently find the plants and use that information for himself – of course, potentially it was worth millions. My only hope to find their identity was in my own knowledge and the good relationship I had with the mountain healers I had worked with for many years – the connection to them being that their tribe and Mbunge's tribe were cousins and had a related language, including similar names for the same plants. Plant taxonomy in oral tribal knowledge is something that changes very slowly, and neighbouring tribes often have the same or very similar names for the same plants, especially if they are used a lot. I had not recognized the names given to me by Mbunge – but would my mountain correspondents do so? But there was one other problem: these plants all came from the bush close to the coast, an area below 200 metres in height. My local experts knew much more about the mountain plants growing above 1200 meters, but there was one old man I knew who had lived both on the plains below the mountains (at around 200 meters with a similar flora to the coastal plain) and now in the mountains themselves. His knowledge, he claimed, was of some 600 plants, of which I had documented about 300 during my Ph.D. Research. The names given to me were definitely not in my own records, but could they still be a part of this old man's knowledge? And was he indeed still alive, as he was more than 90 years age on our last meeting three years before. There were others I could also ask, but old man Msomari, as I will call him, was my main target. From the coastal regional capital I took a bus the 100 miles up into the mountains and the tribal home, that had also been my home for three years during my first period of African research. At the beginning of the mountains the bus wove slowly up and into a steadily narrowing ravine, and the one direction I could see clearly was down into the dark pools and turbulent waterfalls of the river below. But soon we climbed too high to make out the stream through the maze of giant cacti and conifer trees. The variety of flora, some native, others imported, such as the eucalyptus planted along the roadside that were the only protection against us falling into the ravine, dazzled my eyes yet again, just as they had the first time I had come this way nearly 15 years before: ferns taller than oak trees, giant castor oil plants, thorn plants that mimicked tomatoes except the fruit was green and whose leaves, I knew, instantly stopped any bleeding wound, all of these waved in and out of sight with a thousand other blooming varieties. The distance to the stream grew immense – some thousands of feet below us, but then the valley grew wider and there were the first signs of human habitation. There was even the recognizable forms of a school, its gleaming tin roof and cleanly swept red soil playground way down below.

But the sight of the school, and then the gradual realization that the abundant wild flora was mixed with bananas, with fruit trees of such variety clinging to the sides of ridges, and a mixture of maize and other food plants such as beans, casssava and coffee, this all revealed that yet again I had returned to a place of great but mostly hidden riches, especially compared to the plains below. At every small stream that passed under our wildly swinging road, there was a clump of European vegetables in the alluvial soils of the banks. These were gardens rather than fields, but intelligently organized on the best soil with constant access to water.

The first proper stop and settlement was a small trading town at the confluence of two rivers and two distinct routes into the higher mountains – one to the north, which I was to take, and the other southwards. People left the bus and I grabbed a better seat close behind the driver. Sitting down I felt the water carrier at my side – it had noticeably grown cooler in temperature during our slow ascent! After this the valleys grew much broader and there were recognizable fields bordered by thin hedges of tall grasses on the more gentle hillsides; but beyond these the high mountains, covered in dense forests, still dominated the scene. Human habitation sprang up everywhere on the mountain ridges which ran down from the high forest, large numbers of round and square houses covered in metal or straw roofs – such a large population was astonishing to anyone who had first looked up at the two thousand feet bare mountain wall that had faced us on the plains. After another five hours and two mountain passes later we arrived at the market town close to the other side of the mountains, near which Msomari lived. I got down and was amazed, for the hundredth time, at the view from the grassy market square down to the flat billiard table smooth northern plains, some four thousand feet below. The passing high cumulus clouds made intricate patterns of shade and light on the savannah surface down below me as they cut under the lowering sun, and I wondered – did my old friend Msomari have the secret too inside his head of those plants that were almost certainly growing down there, the same ones given to me by Mbunge and now carefully stored in my notebook in my inside pocket. I did not wish to arouse the curiosity of my old friends from the village where I had lived during my fieldwork, so I simply booked into the only guesthouse in town and next morning walked the ten miles to Msomari's village. It was the same spectacular walk as I remembered from the old days, a small path carving its way along a ledge in the mountains and overlooking those same plains to the north, where distant inselbergs and hills indicated similar cultures and tribal habits some 50 miles away. Between these mountains and those others lay only the thorn and scrub of the bush in which wandered nothing but wild animals – lions, elephants, rhinos and antelopes – and a very few hardy Masai with their high horned cattle and earth-red robes. En route I had also to pass the house of my main mentor and spiritual guide Yasoro Nasufi, but I did not wish to pause, or be seen, otherwise I would be a whole day being greeted and fed by Yasoro's four wives and massive family. So I crept past on the back paths of his village. Yasoro would have to wait for another time before he learnt of my momentous news. In any case he was not a specialist in local herbal cures, being more a man possessed, and active in the spiritual causes and cures of his clients. Msomari proved himself to be very much alive and his whole family gave me a great welcome, and in the usual African fashion insisted I stay for a celebratory welcome-home meal of chicken, rice and wild vegetables, Msomari himself cutting the throat of the chicken before leaving it to run about headless and then to lay down finally in a pool of blood. As always he took great note of its position and orientation, for to all healers it indicated the good or bad fortune of the immediate future. Luckily for me it told of only good news, and what a coincidence, that news would come from the direction of the north – and the very plains from where I hoped he would find our plants. For my plan was simple – to tell him the names of the plants in Mbunge's language, hope he would recognize them as they spoke a cousin language in these mountains, then ask him to find them for me, even if it took a few weeks. Then I would return to Mbunge. So after dinner sitting on stools in his garden and watching the sun setting over the sacred mountain they called “Mtumbi” - whose peak was used only for initiations of major shaman - I told him of this plan and the why of it. He seemed not at all astonished, in fact, it felt as though he had already expected such a task, so he willingly agreed to it. Two of the names he immediately recognized, and told me that I should look up at the tree under which I sat. It was a small cork like tree, unremarkable but with quite beautiful serrated leaves. Then he told me, to my amazement, that it was one of the plants that I sought. It seemed that this version was much smaller than the ones that grew on the much warmer plains – but he assured me it had the same name in his language as in Digo – the language of the Senator. This tree was used for skin troubles – something that was another symptom of the disease. Then he told me to wait with the family whilst he proceeded to one of his lower gardens one third down the mountainside towards the plains. He returned after some hours when the light was already fading with a branch of a tree in his hand with leaves of a very distinctive shape on them. “This is K......” he pronounced, “it too grows bigger on the plains. We use it for stomach troubles.” “That might be,” I replied, “The illness it is used for produces serious dysentery.” “As for P............, I can only find that a long way into the plains. But I can go along the mountains tomorrow and visit some relatives near to the plains where I know it is found. It should take me three days journey altogether. We use P. for broken and weak blood.” I hesitated to agree to his plan, for I knew at his age such a long walk into the heat of the plains, and especially the return, the three or four thousand foot climb back again, must totally exhaust him. But he insisted he could do it comfortably, and in any case, he said, he had been planning just such a trip to top up the old medicine gourds hanging in his hut. The power in the legs of the old man was truly astonishing, and put my 50 year younger overweight body to shame. “As for M...........” he said, the last of the three plants named by Mbunge, “I am not sure, it is not a name we know but I will ask some of my friends in the area I will travel to, they have a good knowledge of the nyika plants.” Nyika was the name for the wild bush and thorn country of the plains. Indeed the coach I had come on the previous day was called “Simba wa nyika” - lion of the plains. So all was agreed but it was too late for me to return to the town, so I bedded down for the night in one of the old shaman's outhouses. I dreaded it, but I dreaded more a long walk in the dark along the path on that narrow ridge – the room which I had used once or twice before, stank of drying tobacco leaves, and the capock bed was full of all kind of insects that bit my skin all night. But I put up with it with mounting excitement about what Msomari would find. If we could definitely identify and then show Mbunge at least two of the plants, I was sure he would be greatly impressed – perhaps impressed enough for him to show us how he prepared them. I realize I have travelled a long way from the main threads of my history, back in Prague but I beg my reader's patience as there is only a little more to recount of this vital African background to my story. For once, the bags can wait, and unusually enough, they can wait safely still in my newly found Prague flat. In my old African home, with such vistas as we never see in the closely-viewed aspects of Europe, I was contentedly meandering my way back to see my family in the village next to the main town – a family not of blood but one of the great familiarity after three years sharing their lives and poverty. For I, too, had once lived in a little hut there so as to be more accepted by the locals, especially the healers and herbalists whose secrets I had sought. The welcome after more than five years since my last visit was very gratifying, and I wiled away the next day catching up on the family news and making visits to the locals, whilst waiting for Msomari and my return bus to the coast. But I was full of the expectancy from waiting for Msomari's news, and could hardly contain myself when once more I walked out along the ridge towards his home. Msomari had returned, and straightaway after greeting the family, I was led out to a banana grove just below the house, a sacred place for him because it housed the family graves and shrines. Here he opened up his old leather bag, something which I had identified before as given to his own father by the occupying Germans at the end of the 1st World War. These mountains had been one of the last places liberated from their rule in the old German East Africa. From inside he brought out two small plants, one of of a small bush, the other looked at first like a creeper of some type. “This little bush here is your mystery M........, something I did not know of, but my friend in Mbaramo, he thought the name was familiar. He asked a brother in law who is married to a Zigua woman from the plains, and sure enough they knew the name or something very like to it.” “So it could be the same plant as Mbunge uses – after all the Zigua are very close to his tribe, next door neighbours, and their languages are mostly mutually understandable. What did he think they used it for?” “He did not think it was a medicine, in fact he thought it might be poisonous, but he was not sure. He is not a medicine man.” “And the other one, P.........., it is this small compound pinnate leaf plant?” “Yes, the one for broken blood, I found it a long way into the plains, it only grows there. But it is invaluable for liver and blood problems.” “Sounds like it would be great for me!” “I have gathered a lot of it so we can make you a special medicine to take with you,” said the old healer perching himself on an old rock, but first we should celebrate with some of my best home brew sugar-cane beer.” I had dreaded this – firstly I could not tolerate a lot of alcohol very well and secondly the taste of his home brew was excruciating, full of the bits and dregs suspended in it. “Can I excuse myself Msomari, I really want to get back before dark, I must rush to the capital in the morning and fully investigate the plants. So I will catch the early morning bus.” The old man looked deeply disappointed, but I promised him to return in a month or so and then I would have time to celebrate. He looked so sad when he said he would have my medicine ready before then. So he reluctantly agreed to my departure and after salaaming every member of his family I returned to the hotel and prepared for my next day's journey to the capital and the Traditional Medicine Research Unit. During all this process I was really travelling light, just a little red handbag for my notes, and the big hold-all. My black attache´ case was stashed away in my locker at the university in Dar. So I had little to lose, but now I was carrying the most powerful secret in the bottom of my hold-all – the neatly pressed specimens of the plants found by Msomari. So I never let it go out of my sight and on the coach to the capital I kept it right under my seat, even though at one point one of the porters on the bus tried to snatch it from my hands to throw it up onto the roof with the rest of the big luggage. I violently snatched it back, and caused quite a discussion amongst the boys helping to load the bus, but I was definitely not letting it go more than an arm's length from me. Next day, after sleeping in a room I often used at the university with the same bag under the bed, I took a bus into town and the Research Unit. Mtoni the boss was curious about my recent activities but I bluffed him away with talk about Mtua (solanum campylacathum) – that same plant that was so common on the mountain waysides and which still had not been exploited for its almost miraculous power of coagulating the blood. I did not want to reveal anything at all to him about my real reason for being there and went into the herbarium library and the beautifully laid out pressed plants in order to identify my catch. My search was successful – and very surprising because the last plant M........ was unknown as a medicine by any Tanzanian tribe. So how had Mbunge known about it? Just from his dreams?. Be patient my reader, I know I must get back to the dark and dangerous alleys, the cobbled streets of Prague in order to complete my history of the black attache´ case, and the troubles it brought me. But I am nearly finished in telling the completion of my discoveries of the cure and its preparation. So the next day I went with all my luggage back to the regional capital closest to where the “Senator” lived, left some of it with my friends there at the hospital, then made the difficult passage by bus, boat, and finally motorbike (again with the help of Dr. Schutz) to the village and the feet of Mbunge. I had the specimens of the three plants with me, but because I knew their identity (I had it written down in my little field notebook in my inside pocket) I no longer needed them and could give them back to the old shaman, not as merely names in a remote tongue, but as the real thing. His reaction was puzzled astonishment – he almost fell off his little wooden stool. He fondled the plants I gave him and slowly pronounced their names one by one. “Yes, P.......... here is for broken blood, no? (“Jana hili ni kwa damu imeyoharibika, sindivyo?” I told him in Swahili.) “But how did you know?” “I have good friends up-country, medicine men like you, who know much more than I. I went to get their help. And this leaf from the K.......... tree, it is for the shits, no?” “Yes, yes, it is very important, it helps the patient to stop shitting and gives him back his strength so the other two can do their work.” “And this one is for skin problems, no?” I said to him handing him a branch of the tree found in Msomari's garden. “Yes, yes,” he said excitedly, “you must be a shaman yourself or have some very good medicine men friends.” “It is the latter Mbunge... But this one, M…......... I am not sure what it is for.” I said to him watching his face begin to light up. “I know it is a small bush, very uncommon, but as far as I and the other medicine men know, it is not a cure for any illness.” “Ah ha, at least in this one thing you have not beaten me,” laughed the Senator. “This plant is named by my tribe as a poison, something to be very careful of. That was why I was astonished that in my dreams my spirit helpers told me that this was the main cure. They showed me where to find it, and also how to prepare it.” “So how do you prepare it Mzee Mbunge?” He looked back at me deeply, obviously trying to make up his mind whether to tell me or not. Then he spoke in low and slow terms, underlining the seriousness of his question: “And if I tell you, what will you do with this knowledge?” I suddenly felt the weight of his gaze on me, almost historical in its proportions. How many medicine men, no, how many uneducated blacks had given away vital secrets to the first white-man on the scene, with later devastating consequences? “I will not use it to make money, not even share it with another, unless I have your permission. I promise I will only use it to help those in real need of a cure.” “I believe you,” he said curtly. “So I will tell you: I only use the bark and outer wood of the tree, when it grows to its maximum size. The leaves and the berries are much too poisonous. Then I cut it into short sticks, and immediately boil it for 12 hours, overnight. The next day I strain it and it produces a bluish liquid. I add more water, 10 times what is left in the pot after boiling. I leave it another 24 hours covered with banana leaves. Then I give a small cup of this to each man who is sick, twice a day, morning and night, for as long as it takes.” “A little like homeopathy!” declared Schutz, who had obviously watched this being prepared at the hospital.” “And this is what kills the bacteria?” (Dudu is the word I used in Swahili, as Mbunge obviously did not understand what a bacteria was.) “Yes I believe so but my spirits told me I had to use all three plants together, otherwise the cure would not work.” And then he told the preparation for the other plants. I was jubilant – I had succeeded in getting Mbunge's trust, which I needed in order to develop the plan I had hatched up for avoiding the use of the Pharma giants. But not only that – I already had the recipes for the total cure. Schutz too was a little astonished at what I had achieved, and I later let him in on my plans, hoping he would help me. But as to what happened next, I must leave that for the final episodes of my story. First I must return to Prague to find if the formula had indeed been shared by the forces of …........but what? I almost said the forces of darkness – but that is much too melodramatic – the real enemy was not privy to the secret, of that I was still sure, but the forces of so called law and order could well destroy both myself and my plan if they stupidly and ignorantly thought it was for something else altogether. PRE.western { font-family: "Bookman"; }PRE.cjk { font-family: "Bookman"; }PRE.ctl { font-family: "Bookman"; }P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

The Black Attaché Case Part 2Chapter 5

Posted by Graham Thompson Wed, August 22, 2018 11:59:45

I will tell you now, this briefcase, though a generous gift from my former students in Wales, was becoming more like a curse to me, a millstone around my neck, a black hole in my consciousness.

* * * * *

After breakfasting with my friend Helmut in a favourite Hamburg cafe just by the Sternschanze U-bahn station, I drove on across the flat and uneventful North German plain towards Bremen, musing all the time about the present whereabouts of Almut, the beautiful redhead artist to whom I had given a lift on my way in reverse to Denmark when I first moved there some 6 months before this date in December. Almut came from Bremen, and I had called at her place there once, during my many criss cross travels in November, in order to see the opening of her show of three dimensional paintings in canvas and ceramics. It was her first public showing and I was eager to show my support. In any case I had had to visit another colleague of mine in Bremen at the time, a co-worker in Africa, who will figure much larger later again in my story. But to try and keep on that straight line of my autobahn, I was now closing on Bremen, and I had the choice of diverting off into the city to try and see Almut for one last time, or continuing on towards Antwerp and then England. I had suddenly remembered her when talking to Helmut and, looking into the mirror behind him, I glanced at a very similar redhead leaving the cafe at that very moment. Without saying a word to my friend I rushed out of the cafe in pursuit of her, but when I got close behind her I suddenly realised that this tall German fraulein was nothing like my diminutive Almut. I retreated back inside and explained my folly to Helmut. He laughed at my impulsiveness, but was happy to be infected by it. He was another I had met by chance on my travels across Germany, and his life had been changed by our meeting. In October when we had first met and we had discussed my work and future project, he had so been inspired by it that he had just now, two months later, quit his long time post with the car exhaust research facility in Hamburg, and in January was due to leave for Arusha to work for an NGO in appropriate third world technology. This was the main topic of our conversation that morning, and although it had taken him almost two months to finally make the decision, he was now feeling as light and free as a bird, with only a few weeks before he finished his present post.

But Almut, as opposed to Helmut, had disappeared off my radar altogether, and I would have taken the turning to Bremen, but for the fact that the phone call I had made from back in the Hamburg cafe just before leaving had remained unanswered, just like the previous three or four of my calls before I left Denmark. So there seemed little point in taking the Bremen turn, which I was now fast approaching. Instead, when I came to the Oyten Rasthaus I decided to pull over for a short rest and a coffee, as I was becoming pretty tired after my early morning adventures in Copenhagen and the long drive. I was careful both to lock my car (the break-in had been done so professionally, there appeared to be no damage to locks or windows) and remove my black briefcase in order to have it with me in the restaurant. I first went into the toilets to wash up and take a leak, then I came into the little cafe which is one of my favourites on the German autobahn, partly because it not at all resembles most rasthauses, but functions still as any typical small gasthaus to be found in a neck of the Teutoburger Wald much further south, and partly because it was the place I first met dear Almut. Now it was much fuller than on that day in July, but I still found space in a corner by the window with a view over the parking lot where Almut had come strolling with her little red ponytail and huge army anorak, asking the departing drivers for a lift to Hamburg. But as I sat slurping my coffee this second time it gradually stole up on me that the briefcase I thought I had remembered stowing under the table was no longer there. Panic broke out in my brain (yet again). Had I really brought it in from the car?. Yes, I was certain of that. Had someone stolen it from under my feet? No, impossible, no-one had been sitting anywhere near me except a little grey-haired old lady who was still behind me. Toilets, sodding toilets, I had left it in the toilet. I raced into the washroom area but of course there was no sign of the thing. I searched every toilet but the bowls stared back at me each with a similar OOOOO! blankness. At the front of the Rasthaus there was a small reception desk to which I desperately went. So many forced entries into the bloody briefcase and now I was likely to lose EVERYTHING because of my own stupidity, my dog dazed tiredness, my lack of careful planning. There was no-one there.

But yes, there was someone, she appeared suddenly from beneath the counter, as if like a red jack-in-the-box in her bright red uniform. Good morning, how can I help you? said she in her percussively bright German tongue. Sprechen sie Englisch? I stammered in my terrible English accent. Ja, no problem she sang back. I described the briefcase and she immediately swung down and disappeared again for a second, only to bounce right up with the very article I was desperate to see in her mits. I almost fell across the counter and hugged her neck. With a million danke schoens I left her and also abandoned my half finished coffee - no more risks of losing it - I would immediately drive on.

When I got back to the car all was as it should have been. But I noticed something odd about the briefcase. Everything was perfectly in place in the soft warm kid leather interior, but to get inside I had to introduce my combination number 300-648. I was sure that I had not locked it before by changing the number. But it had been locked by someone, perhaps by someone who had entered it to search inside and then absent mindedly locked it again. But nothing seemed to have been touched and that explanation seemed pretty unlikely. It was just another of the mysteries that had slowly grown up around this luggage item, and probably one that would never be solved, just like the ones that had occurred in Prague, which happenings I will shortly describe, just as soon as I finish my story about Almut.

For as I left the Oyten carpark and headed west I passed the point where I had first agreed to take her into my little Fiat, and then the turning to Fischerude out of which I had come from, that time eastward onto the autobahn. Almut had stepped into the car as if she owned it and persuaded me quickly to take her to her exact destination in Hamburg. Naturally we were soon talking about my visit to Worpswede and Fischerude, two small villages which were the centres of the early German Expressionist movement of the first years of the 20th century. As she too was an artist, Almut had much to comment on my own descriptions and ideas of the works of the painters Paula Becker, Otto Modersohn and Heinrich Vogeler, which I had been to look at in Worpswede.
“What attracted you to their work?” Almut then asked, “Are they well known in England?”
“Not really, in fact I only discovered them by reading Rilke, the early 20th century German poet - do you know his work?”
“Of course, and he lived with them for a time in Worpswede.”
“Actually he lived with Clara Westhoff, another sculptor from the group, in a small place called Westerwede, which I couldn’t find.”
“But what was it you read in Rilke that made you think about their work?”
“Well, Rilke wrote a little known poem called Requieme for Paula Becker which I discovered in translation some years ago. It was about her death when she gave birth to Otto Modersohn’s child somewhere around 1907. It was so moving that I wanted to know more about her life, and then I discovered that she was a famous painter, in Germany at least. So I tried to find paintings by her but there are not so many books on her in English. Also I was fascinated by Clara Westhoff, her best friend, and later Rilke’s wife. She never became as famous as Paula for her own work, and although she lived for a time with Rilke, he never really paid her the attention that she deserved, I think it was because he hated to feel tied down by any woman. When he was dying she finally wanted to come and say goodbye to him, but would you believe it, he wouldn’t even let her.”
“So you came to Worpswede to see her work and that of Paula Becker’s?”
“Yes, but also to find more about their lives there, I wanted to see some of the places where they lived. You see there is an atmosphere in their work which I think comes from the place, the great North German plain with it’s tremendously open skies and the boggy and birch-filled ground around Worpswede. And I was fascinated by these women who played such a major part in Rilke’s life. Why was he so affected by the death of Paula Becker in childbirth but on the other hand showed little interest in his own wife and even his own child? ”
“And did you find out more about them in Worpswede?”
“A little. After visiting Worpswede I went to the Modersohn museum which is in the house where Paula & Otto Modersohn lived. I actually talked to Modersohn’s son who is the curator now. He was born 8 year’s later from Otto’s third wife; Paula was his second. He would tell me very little about Paula, but he did tell me that Clara Westhoff lived until she died in a house at Fischerude, close-by. So I was determined to visit it to see what I could of her life there and try and find out if Rilke ever visited her again. You see before the first world war Rilke took the post of Rodin’s secretary, you know - the famous sculptor, and he learned a great deal from him in techniques of observation. It was obviously a great opportunity for Clara as well, and she joined him there from Worpswede for a time. But things somehow didn’t work out for them, and it was then she returned to Germany and took the house at Fischerude alone with their child.”
“Did you read about that before you came?”
“Yes, some things are in Rilke’s biography, but I got the best information from a neighbour of Clara Westhoff in Fischerude.”
“ Really? You talked with a neighbour who knew her?”
“Oh yes, she invited me in when she saw me looking at the now empty Westhoff house. She even had a key as the place was up for sale and she offered to show me round the building. She is pretty old herself, she was once a famous ballet dancer, but she was originally from Fischerude and knew the Westhoffs really well.”
“And did she know if Rilke had ever visited his wife again there?”
“It was well before her time, you must remember we are talking about more than 70 years ago. She knew Clara Westhoff and her family later, in fact Clara lived there until she died in the early fifties. She told me the family history as far as she knew it and it was pretty tragic. In fact Clara had found the Fischerude house even before she went to Paris and had begun to live there before Rilke invited her to stay with him whilst he worked for Rodin. He visited her perhaps once there in the very early days, but the house is obviously too small for both of them to have lived together - it’s really only a giant log cabin made in dark stained wood in a traditional way. Downstairs is one huge room with a big north facing window, which Clara probably used as her studio. Upstairs there are two small bedrooms. I can’t imagine Rilke settling into domestic life there, he was too used to castles and fine living, many of his patrons were female aristocracy. But he definitely visited the place, probably before he went to Paris. You see there is a main beam over the big room and on it is carved one of his short poems and the date - 1902.”
“Really? What was the poem, is it famous?”
“No, I had never seen it before, but it was pretty impressive, an epitaph, perhaps for his whole life. I have it written on the front of my notebook, look there on the back seat.” Almut picked up the book and quickly found the poem, then read it slowly in a muted and reverent voice. "Da vieles fiel, fing Zuversicht mich an Die Zukunft gebe Das ich durf Ich kann"
"But Rilke never came back again after living in Paris. In fact he rarely saw Clara, only when she rushed to see him once during one of his many illnesses after the war. He saw his daughter even more rarely, her name was Ruth, and she grew up there with her mother. He only saw her a couple of times, once on a family holiday in Belgium in 1906, the other when she had lunch with him in Munich in a train station. He was a man utterly devoted to his art and definitely not his family. Clara too was an artist to the end but she was never a well-recognised one, in fact her art was vilified along with Paula Becker’s during the Nazi period. And her family had a very tragic history according to my informant the neighbour. Clara was never accepted in the village, you see there was very few other artists in this place, and during the war she was denounced as a traitor and a witch. But she still went on living there until her death, ten years after the war. They refused to bury her in the churchyard, she’s buried separately with the suicides and the insane."

"Elizabeth, that’s the neighbour, told me the whole sad tale. Clara had married again, a violinist much younger than herself, who was almost as young as Ruth her daughter. It must have shocked the villagers. After her mother died, Ruth then married her stepfather. But sometime after this Ruth's own daughter from a previous relationship was killed in a car accident, somewhere on this autobahn. Life couldn’t have got better for Ruth and her husband, because in the early seventies they were found dead together in their car in the garage: they had gassed themselves with the exhaust fumes. She had never known her father Rilke well, he left her mother for good when she was 8 months old. She married her own mother’s second husband, no doubt looking for her own real father. But there couldn’t have been happiness there either, and then the death of her own daughter - it must have been too much for her what with the villification of the villagers as well.”
“It’s a dark story, are there any other Westhoffs or Rilkes left?”
“There’s a Rilke in Frankfurt, Elizabeth told me, but I don’t know whose son he is, she wasn’t sure. She thinks he may be an illegitimate son of Ruth’s. But there’s also a branch of the family in Denmark, on Langeland, that I’d like to investigate. Probably relatives of Clara’s brother Helmut, he was also a painter who left Germany after Nazi persecution. Helmut made a fantastic portrait of Rilke when he was still very young.” “Yes, I think I know it. How do you know the family moved to Denmark?”
“A complete coincidence, the family of a Danish friend of mine there bought a big manor house from the Westhoff family on an island off Langeland. They told me its history, and the Westhoffs had definitely come from Bremen during the last war, where Clara’s family originated. There are still Westhoffs in the neighbourhood.”
“Too many coincidences.” said Almut in a low voice. “When you told me about the death of Ruth’s daughter – that would be Rilke's granddaughter, yes - what was her name?”
“I think it was Naomi.”
“Well it gave me prickles - is that what you call them - on my neck.”
“I too nearly died on this motorway when I was a baby.”
“How? - now you are giving me prickles - oh I mean goose pimples, that’s what we call them.”
“When I was about 8 months old I was travelling with my parents along here and we were involved in a big crash. My parents told me about it later, because, thank God, of course, I don’t remember a thing. I was fast asleep in a basket, which for some reason had been put on the back shelf, just under the window. In the crash the window shattered and I was thrown out.” “But where the hell did you land?”
“That was the miracle. The rescue workers found me on the central part of the autobahn, and not only was I alive but I didn’t have a scratch on me. I can’t imagine how my mother felt.”
“That’s incredible - but sometimes babies are so relaxed that they don’t hurt themselves when they fall.”
“I think it was more than that, I’ve always thought all my life that I have a very kind and powerful guardian angel.”

* * * * *

Almut definitely had one, but if I have one too, it’s certainly not working for me now. Here in Egypt, back in the Everest, I asked the clerk to call a cab to take me and my growing band of luggage to the airport at 9pm. My friend Lotte had already left with the copy of the formula I was sending to Firemen in Florida. I felt nervous and vulnerable as I assembled my luggage on the pavement in front of the hotel, which cast its dark and high shadow over my leaving. The Cairo night was punctuated by the mad bleatings of the traffic and the lights from the great mosque from over the other side of the wide speedway. The pile of luggage seemed to look accusingly at me stacked there on the pavement: where in god’s name are you taking us now? And which of us might you mislay next in some godforsaken hole or other? But they had every right to stare back at me in such an accusing way – I nearly lost them all that night. The Greek satchel was on my shoulder but the rest – the black briefcase, the Guatemalan bag, the boxed ghetto-blaster, and, last but not lightest, the hide-leather hold-all, made even heavier because of the Franco-Egyptian typewriter hidden away in its voluminous depths – lay like a defensive wall on the pavement edge.

The taxi finally arrived, an old battered Fiat that had a faint resemblance to my own wreck, now wedged somewhere in a south London street. On that cold January night, my last in Cairo for some two months, the coincidence of cars lifted my spirits, but not for long. The chaffeur came around the back of his vehicle and lifted the boot saying: “Air-a-port mista?”
“Yes, yes – and be quick, I have a plane to catch in two hours.” I humped in all the bags but kept satchel and briefcase with me. I leaned by his window after he had returned to the driver's seat and asked him:
“And before I get in can you tell me how much is the fare?”, but then I realized at the same time my bags were already his hostages to my fortune.
“20 shillings mista, special rate, and we go quick, no worry, we there very soon.” Slightly reassured even though I thought his price was a little on the high side, I slid into the backseat and began to relax. The old leather was torn and ripped in places letting out the capock stuffing in tufts and bows. But I could afford to ignore such small trifles and sinking down began to feel so very tired from my previous days' exertions and a month of constant travels. The wide highway blazed its way through tall office blocks and then smaller apartments until we began to emerge into an area of crouching slums and smaller houses, swept up closer to the big road and threatening to spill their contents in front of us. The traffic began to disappear until the road was almost bare of cars going in our direction, but far from taking advantage of this empty roadspace my driver began slowing down and trailing along at less than 30mph.
“Why are you slowing down?” I demanded.”I need to catch that plane, so for godsake get on with it,”
“Very soree mista but I think we have no petrol. But no worry – we just make it to the next station at the bottom of the hill here.” We did make it – much to my temporary relief, but before filling up he turned to me and said:
“I need money to pay for petrol – give me 40 shillings so I can fill tank and get to town again. Petrol very very expensive these days.”
“But we agreed on 20 shillings for the fare.”
“Must fill up, so give me 40 shillings or I go home now. This is my town here.” What choice did I have? I needed to catch the plane and I did not fancy trying to get another taxi so I paid – but I hated to be blackmailed in this way. About one kilometre from the airport he slowed again and stopped in an area devoid of lights but still with the darkened shacks of slum-life on either side of the road. My heart sank as I knew what was coming. But this time I waited in silence for his explanation. He stopped the car and turned to me.
“Mista, I can't go more now – time is up – it's nearly 11 and I finish now, finished work tonight. Unless .........”
“Unless I pay you more!”
“How you guess? After 11 is night rate – double price.”
“But I already paid you double price.”
“So it is double double price now – give me 40 shillings more or I go home.”
“That's it, I am not having this – give me my bags – I will walk until I see another taxi, the last sign said 2 kilometres to the airport so it's not that far.” He got slowly out the car and went to the back.
“Ok mista, if you think it´s good – here are your bags, but not many taxis now in this direction, they all come back from airport now.” I sidled out and sat on my mountain of bags wondering what to do - try walking further with them or go across the central reservation and get a taxi returning on the other side of the highway. My driver got back in but just sat there as I contemplated the diminishing chances of my reaching the airport on time. Finally he said:
“Very bad place here mista, I don't like to leave you – many thieves in this district. Pay me half double rate and we go airport double quick.”
“And how much would that be?”
“20 shillings – just baksheesh – then no tip afterwards.” I looked around and noticed figures hovering in the half-light cast by the shuttered windows of the nearest shacks. Maybe he was right, and after all I would probably miss my plane if we didn't get moving right away. That would be bad enough, but what if all my bags were stolen and all that work of the past six months just disappeared into the night? So I loaded up my bags again and paid him the extra 20. My mind was boiling but there was nothing I could do, I would not even have time to report him to the police at the airport, and in any case I knew nothing would be done about it – I was just another gullible tourist here in Egypt.

On our arrival, after telling him to wait, I went in search of a trolley, but then I was shocked to hear him rev up the engine and begin to pull away with all my bags still on board. But when I screamed at him he stopped just down the road, got out and gave me a big grin.
“Oh very sorree sah, I believed you already take you bags. Here they are.” And he pulled open the boot and threw them onto the pavement. Oh my poor delicate ghetto blaster – I could only pray it was not broken by his rough treatment.
“Service with the smile please!” He shouted, then finally roared off and left me to drag them to the nearest line of trolleys. I always have the same mixed feelings when dealing with people like this in the poorer countries of the world. On the one hand I am outraged at such ridiculous behaviour, so far from the norms of natural human intercourse, and of a type that makes all communication a matter of economic bargaining rather than what it should be – a mutual interchange and search for knowledge of one another´s cultures in a spirit of normal friendliness and goodwill. But then, I put myself in their severely disadvantaged place – would not I too try and extract the maximum in profit from the rich foreigner who has manifestly all the advantages of his world over mine, and the added audacity to bring both the person and the symbols of that world of wealth fleetingly to their desperately poor neighbourhood? With these thoughts going round and round in my head, and the re-recognition that there were no simple answers to this dilemma,

I sank momentarily down onto the sidewalk outside the Departure Hall of Terminal 1, but nevertheless felt rather relieved that my ordeal at the hands of the mad Egyptian cab driver was now past, and, after all, not all Egyptians behaved like he did, thank God! It was then I suddenly felt the icy coldness of the night. I guessed that on this oasis of light and modern jet-stream sounds, the temperature was close to freezing from the air seeping in out of the darkness of those desert surrounds. The trolley rolled slowly towards the gutter, begging for its mouth to be filled with the stack of luggage on my other side. It was gone 11 and time to move quickly if I was to catch my plane: I had less than an hour to spare before my Egypt Air flight to Nairobi. Throwing in my bags, but carefully wedging the ghetto-blaster on top of them, I moved into the brightly lit entrance hall.

They were already calling my flight, so I hurriedly bundled all my bags except the Greek satchel and briefcase through the luggage check-in and rushed to the security gate. I was fearful of meeting new problems there, but my British passport was accepted without a second glance, and my hand luggage was allowed through with only a minimal search from the security guards. I was free at last of Europe, and now of Egypt, eager and ready to return to the freedoms and comparative safety of black Africa, to sit at the feet again of my mentor Mzee Yusufu, and to try and refind our mystery man Mbunge the Senator, who we hoped could supply the answers to the riddle of an illness which threatened the lives of millions. With excited thoughts about what I had already achieved and I might achieve, and of the fragile organization I had put together in less than three months of travel and the tasks we had for it when I returned with Mbunge's son, I passed through the gate and walked across the tarmac to my plane. It was close to midnight when I gained my seat and belted up ready for take off. There, through the blunted rectangle of the small porthole next to me, small flecks of snow blew out of a raging sky, strangely illuminated by the glare of the lights from the airport buildings and circling orange beacons. The loneliness and vastness of that desert night with its strange cargo of African snow gripped me and transported me back to the view of the first snowfalls of that winter some two or more months before. I was looking up out of the much larger window of a railway carriage as the train I was on bumped and clattered its way on broken communist rails towards Prague. The humanized Czech night was now ostensibly free of communist shadows, but still full of falling snow. My arrival however was not quite free of those old instruments of communist surveillance and control that properly belonged to a regime officially buried some 12 months before. And this eastern European sky was full of the cold air and cold war whisperings which I had never hitherto experienced.

* * * * *

I was still in a state of hyper-nervosity when my train pulled in at gone 11pm on that moonless Thursday night in December. It was no wonder, as I was still suffering from the hangover caused by that terrible dream brought on by my long conversation with that Bosnian refugee, and then the rude awakening and manhandling by the Czech border guards on my first ever entry into their country. Luckily I was not even conscious then of the loss (or was it theft?) of part of my literature review. Otherwise I would have been even more paranoid when I finally stepped from the train, probably a paranoia bordering on psychosis!

Arriving in Prague station was like entering a time-warp, or rather, a time-cocktail. The black vaulted glass roof and soot-grimed walls of the cavern, in which stood rails and platform, were straight out of the mid-nineteenth century, but the art-nouveau murals and wrought-iron metalwork of the main cafe and passages off the platform spoke of a badly faded turn of the century glory. Passing down a few drab blue steps I stumbled with just three bags into a 1950s style “Hall of the People” - communist, functionalist, vast and inhuman. Never having put a foot in Prague before, nervous and fearful for my coming nights in the city, I felt like I was suddenly thrust under the spotlights of the high ceiling that illuminated the huge naked marble arena and its square columns. Then as I turned I could see above me a gallery over the stairs I had come through, and there, looking down at the arriving passengers, stood three huge men dressed in a combination of mobster suits and long leather coats. If the Czechs still had a secret police, a local undischarged KGB – it was them. But I thought little of it on this first glance of the enemy, I was too preoccupied in finding the accommodation bureau that might lead me to a bed for the night and a place to unload my heavy briefcase and holdall which tugged at my arms, and the plastic tape case slung over my shoulder. After wandering around hopelessly looking for said office for some minutes, I finally sighted a hand written sign indicating an accommodation agency (in English) pointing down some stairs. The underground cellar below that marble splendour had more the appearance of painted brick horror chamber from some much earlier Kafkaesque era, poorly lit and crammed with left luggage lockers. There was an accommodation office at the side of the bottom of the stairs but it was clear everybody had gone home for the night. I would have to search for the first hotel I could find and come back in the morning to look for a cheaper place.

But the left luggage office and the lockers were still open, so I decided to take advantage of the latter to stuff my tapes and briefcase in for the night, leaving me only my African holdall (full of clothes, toiletries and a few papers) to shoulder around town in search of a hotel. As I bundled them into the locker, paid at the desk and handed in the key (a very quixotic system thought I at the time) and then headed back for the stairs, I had a very strong feeling of being watched, but the rows of metal lockers yielded not a sight nor sound of another human being. And strangely enough there were no surveillance cameras – at least no visible ones. As I came up again into the wide brightness and between the heavy square columns of the main hall, I half expected a forgotten giant portrait of Lenin or Mao-Tse Tung to be hanging between them, but of course there was none. But when I looked up to the gallery again, instead of three men leaning over and staring at me, there were now only two. But again, at the time I thought little of it, for I was now one of the only humans worth looking at, crossing the huge marble floors with my footsteps echoing behind me.

I exited the station and looked over a small park quilted with flower beds and taxi-car ranks. I approached the first vehicle and begged the driver to take me to a reasonably priced hotel. I guess he took me literally because half an hour later we arrived in some god-forsaken suburb at an ill-lit hotel on a main road still haunted by the late night trams of the city ghosting past empty and bright as a fairground ride. I entered feeling half naked with just my one big bag, and after paying the bald greasy man at the desk in advance for one night, I was shown up to a back room on the second floor which was reasonably clean but barely functional as a place of rest for the night – no shower included, nor as far as I could see was there one down the hall, just a bowl and jug on a stand, a thin damp towel and a creaking and badly sprung bed. But cheap, very cheap. Exhausted from my day's adventures and travels, I quickly fell fast asleep despite the malfunctioning neon hotel sign outside my window and the flash and rumble of the night trams going by. But at least I was not molested and my bag was safe beneath my bed; but this was not true of my other bags at the station – as I was to find out later the next day.

Early next morning I successfully called up one of my contacts, Magdalena, from the hotel desk telephone downstairs. I was less successful in trying to contact Dr. Maracek at the Ministry of Health, the local expert in the disease that was already spreading itself in the gay and prostitute community of Prague. Magdalena's voice was sweet relief from the cold night and frustrations of my entry into the city. But though she spoke soothing words in a hauntingly beautiful Czech-accented English, she was not able to see me, much less put me up for the few days I needed in Prague. She was at home with her mother and her mother was a very controlling and disapproving chaperone to her every move, even though Magdalena was already 20 years of age. I could understand that she could not easily welcome a 44 year old male stranger into her household, who may have had designs on her daughter. This was not at all the case but maybe I should explain to readers at this point how exactly we had met and what exactly was the nature of our relationship.

* * * *

I had just crossed the English Channel for only the second time that fateful year, after saying a final farewell to my home in West Wales, and all that was permanently lost to me there – friends, house and an ex-wife who had stolen it from me. But that is another story with which I do not need to prologue this one. I emerged from Calais port with a little Fiat full of my belongings and small items of furniture, bound for my new home in Denmark, where I hoped to pursue a more fruitful research association with Faber, Schmøll and Herschenberger-Kirkergaard, when who should I see on the side of the road but Magdalena – although then of course she was just a beautiful stranger hitching her way home to Prague. We really ate up the miles across France, then Belgium talking at full throttle and devouring each other's minds and thoughts at a rate accelerated by common views and a spiritual synchronicity. I was most excited by the fact that she knew a bunch of alternative and spiritual healers back in Prague and promised to welcome me there if I ever had the chance to come. She said she had been working in England, mostly as an au-pair, since just before the Velvet Revolution, but was disillusioned with the life in UK and the abuse she had received from the rich families she had served. She wanted nothing more than to go home and take part in the re-building of her country, even though she had no idea what she might do there for work and had no place to live except home. She thought maybe she should go back to school, but she also dreaded being dependent on what sounded like a very domineering mother. By the time we had covered our mutual histories and aired so many similar ideas we had got halfway across Belgium. I was headed for Carla's place as she had invited me to break up my journey there during a phone-call just before my departure from Wales. Our friendship was still young however, and I did not know what she or her husband might think if I turned up with another much younger woman. Carla and I (well certainly not I) had not yet fallen in love, but our own first meeting, just outside Antwerp some 2 months before on my way back from a first recce visit to Denmark, had in itself a foretaste of what was to come. We had met in the voluminous caverns of Antwerp station late one night, she on the way back from her TAROT class, I en route to the ferry at Zeebrugge. We took the same train and same small compartment to Ghent, and in less than half an hour established a common range of interests that were even deeper than what I found later with Magdalena. We had stayed in contact by phone and letter and she had planned to come to Wales with her husband as she was “gek om Celtische myther” as she put it in her Flemish – which I only half understood, but often thought I really did. She never came because I had decided that, after all my frustrations with the English authorities (both academic and legal) and my own insoluble marriage to a local Welsher, I would move to Denmark and seek funds there for my “action” research. It was a momentous change in my life but I was prone to such changes because of my nomadic childhood and impossible relations with the (at least British) opposite sex. And so here we were, Magdalena and I, but it was getting dark, and dear Magdalena had nowhere to stay. And was I now falling in love with a Czech. No, I told myself, there was no room for romance or complicated relationships in my life, I had now to dedicate it solely to the cause and the lives of others who were suffering from such a terrible malady.

So what to do? I decided to stop off at the next service station and phone Carla to ask if it would be ok if another guest might stay there for just that one night. She instantly agreed, but I do not think she asked her husband until after she put the phone down. But our welcome seemed reasonably warm, even though we got totally lost in the dusk trying to find their village in the undulating Flemish hinterland, and did not arrive until nine o'clock that night. We had a light meal offered to us and Robert, Carla's husband, though seeming a little stiff and formal, asked me many interesting questions about my work. How had I begun my interest in tropical plants, how did I really know that some of them might be effective in treating various diseases, and when I intended to get back to Africa again? I told him I was scheduled to go the following January for a last visit with my existing funds but hoped to get new funding in Denmark. He seemed polite and moderately friendly, but nothing more. There was no hint of his being the deadly foe that he was later to become, with his police connections that may have eventually spread throughout Europe and even to Czechoslovakia in order to haunt and hunt me.

Just before I was given a bed on the sofa, and for Magdalena one in a small guest room upstairs, Carla invited me to view her study, which was lined with books on spirituality, Steiner's works and alternative healing. There was a very special atmosphere there that I could feel instantly and we talked intimately of the special healing powers with which she had used to help cure her ailing father of chronic bronchitis. I felt I could really feel her power as she turned those hands towards me and used them to cure the headache that had been building up all day on my journey from Wales. The very air seemed to vibrate between us. That was the moment, she later told me, that she had fallen in love with me.

Foolishly, after Magdalena and I left the next morning, Carla had told her husband she had this very strong compulsion to come and see me in Denmark. And so she did, some 3 months later, with disastrous consequences for her marriage. Her husband apparently tried to persuade her that I was a fake; that I was obviously sleeping with the Czech girl, and would sleep with any woman who might throw herself in my path. But she would have none of it and still came – in the end, astonishingly enough, with her husband's agreement. But that is a whole other story and I must get back to Prague and what happened to me there, including my second meeting with Magdalena and the fate of my briefcase in that left luggage office.

* * * * *

I dropped Magdalena outside Cologne and she hitched on home successfully, sending me a beautiful postcard of thanks to my northern Danish farmhouse a week later. I had no contact with her until that morning in the rather grubby hotel in Prague, when she told me on the phone that she would try and meet me on the following day, in a famous bar called the Kosicka, close to the old square in the centre, around four in the afternoon. I had still the task of trying to contact Maracek at the Ministry, but more importantly of reclaiming my briefcase and tape-case at the station and fixing myself some semi-permanent accomodation. So I took a tram number 18 right outside the hotel which took me directly back there. It was my first experience of these old war horses, the high steps leading up to its wide interior, the funny little Czech voice on the tannoy intoning every halt's street name, and the cheerful trilling of its bell when any other vehicle dared to get in its way – a stupid thing to do as these vehicles seemed as heavy and well protected as a Russian tank. But I came to love them during my next days in Prague.

It was sunny and cold, the glistening snow on the little park outside the station reflecting my hopes for a better day than the last. I entered the station and found first the accommodation office, stashing my hold-all under my foot by the counter. I was surprised and delighted to learn that they could offer me a former communist bureaucrat's flat for a very cheap weekly rate. And it even had a telephone! The place they pointed out on the map was in a suburb quite close to the centre, just over the other side of the park to the east of the station in Prague's 3rd district. In fact it turned out to be a beautiful walk over the open green hill of the park, but before I discovered it I had to collect the rest of my bags. So I hauled out my big leather hold-all and made for the left luggage section in the cellar. There two guys in uniform handed me the key to my locker after I had produced my receipt. I went to the locker number 493 indicated on the key, opened it and found it – completely empty. At first I thought they must have given me the key to the wrong locker – I could not remember the number from the previous night, so, in order to be sure, I went back to the office. They were as perplexed as myself – the number of the key was the same as on the docket I had given them back. One of them came to examine the locker again, but of course it was still empty. They could not speak good English and I wondered if the locker could have been broken into, or the key used by someone else. On the first count there was no sign of any damage to the locker and it had been locked when I first went back there. On the second, it was difficult to make my meaning clear to them without seeming to accuse them personally. But from their meagre words and signs they indicated that the key could not have left their office. But I should report it as a theft to the police I insisted. By now my panic was rising from deep within as I realized most of my 9 months of research was at stake. How stupid I had been to trust it to them, but I had been so tired the previous night that I had not thought clearly about it, and trying to find a hotel so late with all my luggage had seemed to me equally if not more dangerous.

They tried to mollify me and asked me to come back at midday when the officer in charge would come on duty (“big boss big boss, he come 12 hours”) and he might have the answer. They seemed reluctant to involve the police. I too did not really want to go to the police – and certainly did not want to get involved with the secret police, so paranoid was I of being thought some kind of spy or international criminal – I was still scared from the time I had almost been confronted in Brussels Midi station by Carla's husband, and – was it his police chief brother? And had the British police contacted Interpol? And was it the Danish secret police who had ransacked my car outside Tima''s by Copehagen main station? What was worse I remembered that in my briefcase there were small sachets of a white homeopathic powder which I had been prescribed for my liver problems by Luc Verminderen in Holland. It was called Ignatia and was perfectly harmless, but it could easily be thought of as some kind of drug. And those heavy leather coated guys hanging around the station from the previous night - could they have been involved? Where they really the Czech KGB or remnants thereof? So afraid was I that I resigned myself to settling into my flat and coming back around lunchtime, desperately hoping it would turn up.

The accommodation agency had given me a big map of the city with clear markers on it how to get across the park and find my way to the street in Ziskov where my flat was located. As I strolled over the hilly open grounds behind the station I suddenly felt relaxed and clear-minded again after my ordeal in the left luggage offices in the dungeon-like bowels of the station. Was it the fresh air of the park? The stunning views over the city and its many spires? Or the associated excitement of being in Kafka's Prague and suddenly feeling that I felt like one of his characters, caught up in a vaster mystery which I could barely comprehend? Well that was all quite well and good but it didn't really compensate for the potential loss of half my life's work. Nevertheless it was with a pleasant, maybe even an excited expectant mood that I walked down the grand and long vistas of the middle class suburb of Ziskov. These were just the kind of houses where Kafka himself must have lived, grand 3 or 4 storey affairs, turn of the century with hints of art nouveau around their windows and railings. My own flat was on the first floor of a similarly styled terraced house, looking out onto the street. It consisted of three rooms and its own bathroom, and the furniture was something very special indeed. It was like going on a journey back to my childhood in the 50s - heavy walnut chest of drawers and radiogram in the living room, bakelite radio, ancient period toaster and even an American Frigidaire in the kitchen. Beds that resembled temples for sleep with immense carved headboards. I was in a retro-heaven. And there was the telephone on a small table in the entrance hall – again genuine black bakelite with heavy receiver and a glorious period bell-ring. After stowing my hold-all and small red bag, I immediately used it to phone Maracek – miraculously, not only was he in but he had received my letter from Antwerp and was keen to meet me – so we made an appointment for 2.30 the same afternoon and I was so glad that at last I was going to meet the top brain in the struggle against the deadly bacteria – well at least the best man in Czechoslovakia. Rather than feeling I was just being chased around the continent, I felt that now I could really achieve something, as not since my profitable time in Denmark had I the chance to properly get on with my work. I just sincerely hoped that my precious papers and the briefcase which contained them, would be returned to me later that morning. I tried relaxing on the enormous bed, but I just could not, as my head was full of the whereabouts of the missing briefcase, so I then made myself some instant coffee left in the kitchen (it was not only well equipped, but from the amount of food and even alcohol in the cupboards I guessed that its previous owner must have cut and run pretty quickly) then listened to some of my tapes on my own mini tape recorder which I had brought with me in the hold-all. This time in Prague was well before I had bought the Sony Ghetto-Blaster, but my Sony stereo portable walkman recorder was quite a machine all to itself; I was only sad that I could not match it to those big walnut encased Grundig speakers, as my various connectors were still missing inside my lost tape case. So I put on my headphones and listened to everything from Mahler's 5th to Dire Straits – pleasurably wiling away the rest of the morning.

Locking up the flat carefully after hiding my most precious items in the bottom of the heavy duty wardrobe, I quickly, and unusually empty handedly, ran back across the park and entered the station again. At the desk of the left luggage office I found now three personnel, and, indeed, the third member of the triumvirate was the superintendent of all that became lost in that lugubrious railway terminal. I could tell this just from the size of his large peaked hat. And from under the peak there came out a pretty good version of the English language – that was quite a shock. He tried to be very helpful, checking the docket that I handed back, finding the key and coming with me to open the locker again. Imagine my astonishment when we swung the locker door open and found both tape case and briefcase sitting there so innocently. I was still suspicious and asked how could this be when just three hours earlier the locker had been empty. He was sure that there must have been a mistake with the key, maybe I had been given the key to a locker adjacent to this one that same morning. But it had matched the docket I insisted. Maybe I had been given the wrong key the previous evening he suggested. But then – I said – surely this key, which matched my docket, would not open this locker. It was a mystery for which it was obvious that I would never get an answer to from these officials. In the end I just wanted to rush home and open my briefcase (which seemed on first glance not to have been opened, as it was still locked and the combination numbers were nowhere near my divorce date). I certainly did not want to open it in front of the others in this dimly lit cellar. So I thanked him with a grim smile and turned away back up the stairs towards home. This time there were no “KGB” officers looking over from the gallery above. But as I walked over the park and up the hill towards my flat again, I had the distinct feeling that I was being followed. Yet again. But, when I turned back I could see no-one on that little path, not even anyone sitting down suddenly on one of the numerous benches next to it. But I still had that undeniable feeling that someone from somewhere was watching my progress. As I came to my house, before I walked towards my front door I paused and looked up and down the street – but there was still nobody in sight. So I went in, up the stairs and into my kitchen. There were two important things I needed to check – first my papers and in particular my literature review and index cards. I turned the combination to my divorce date and opened the black box nervously.

There were some important pages missing from the introduction to my review, but for which I knew I had copies back in Antwerp. The plant card-index seemed intact except for a few unimportant plants, and in particular the plants used in the recipe for the cure were all there. Nevertheless someone had definitely been in my briefcase. Was it the Bosnian from the previous day's train ride from Geneva? He could easily have stolen my papers because some of them had lain on the seat beside me when I had had that nap, and then he had disappeared before we came near Czechoslovakia. He must have got out in Nuremberg. But perhaps this was the least likely solution to the mystery.

I began checking my white Ignatia homeopathic powders, which were carefully placed in a kid-leather pocket in the front of the briefcase. There had been ten of them left, of that I was sure, as they were numbered in separate small paper envelopes. All were still there. I then looked inside each one of them, and, sure enough in the final envelope there was only a small dusting of powder, not the full compliment as in the rest. Someone had removed the powder, perhaps as a specimen in order to test it. This rather pointed to a police force, a drugs squad, or, God-forbid, those “KGB” monkeys in leather coats. And if they had a specimen, and had read and taken my review, then surely they would suspect that I was trying to develop some kind of drug for the commercial or black market (if they were stupid) or, more worryingly, they would suspect me of drug-trafficking (even more stupid). But if it was the police, and not an agent of some pharmaceutical company, I was relatively safe – or so I thought. Once they had tested the Ignatia they would find it to be an innocent powder with such a small trace of strychnine as to be absolutely harmless and profitless. Nevertheless I would be on my guard and suspect anyone in Prague who tried to entrap me or ask leading questions. After all someone had stolen the introduction to my review – no vital information there, but it was worrying to think that somebody had gone to those lengths to find out more about me.

I took a beer from the fridge, a good and genuine Czech pilsen, and told myself to relax. Whoever it was, was not going to stop me in reaching my goal. I was here in Prague on perfectly legitimate business. Paid for, ha, ha, by the British government. Though of course they didn't know half of what they were really paying for. But my meeting with Maracek had been approved by my sponsors, it did not matter that I would also spend time in Prague on some of my own “underground” and unofficial research, as well as trying to meet some important healers. Indeed it was my plan to use my own body as a kind of test for these healers – all across Europe – if they could detect and help the very real problems that I suffered from, then they would be worthy partners in our forthcoming venture when I finally returned from Africa with the “Senator's” son.

The Black Attaché CaseChapter 5

Posted by Graham Thompson Wed, August 22, 2018 11:35:17

The Black Attaché Case

Shortly after I returned to the Hotel Everest after my long day’s labours in Cairo, including my abortive meeting with Wolfgang, there occurred one last incident in this event-packed day. I went down to the bank of phones opposite the hotel reception on the 5th floor in order to call Refaat, my diamond dealer friend, who was supposed to be in Alexandria now. Although Egyptian, Refaat actually lives in Amsterdam, where we had met some months before, though you will meet him in this story somewhat later at the appropriate baggage call. Anyway, I needed to talk to him about the secret money I had invested with him “for the cause”. But to my disappointment the number I rang in Alexandria yielded only an old Egyptian woman (his mother??) who couldn’t speak a word of English. However, she seemed to become very animated when I mentioned the name of Refaat, shouting out the name back to me then slamming down the phone. I guessed that Refaat hadn’t arrived after all and she wasn’t too pleased about it.

His non-appearance didn’t really matter too much, I didn’t need money rightaway, the British Government was going to be more than generous for the next six months, but I would have liked to know how he was getting along. When I got back to my room, to my horror I found the door wide open. In my tiredness had I forgotten to even shut it, or had there been an intruder? I was awestruck to see that the Ghetto Blaster had disappeared from my bed. Oh my God, would the thief find the precious formula that I had secreted in the speakers? I hurriedly checked through the rest of my things and to my slight relief nothing else seemed to have been taken.

After carefully locking the door this time I rushed downstairs again to the main office to check if anybody had handed the thing in, or at least find if valuables had been stolen from other rooms. But the lonely night porter (it was now gone midnight) could not enlighten me or lift my gloom even a tad. The cleaners had gone home hours ago, so they wouldn’t have tidied it up, or put it somewhere for safe keeping. And nothing else had been stolen. In my need for solace from a friend I decided to ring Refaat again, this time at home in Amsterdam. He was the only other person with a copy of the full formula and botanical details, so I also had to reassure myself that at least his copy was safe. But my head was exploding from the idea that a third person may now have the formula and be about to sell it to my enemies. This could be a disastrous setback to our plans. It was good in the circumstances to hear Refaat’s cool and soothing voice come on the line, just as if he was in the next phone booth.

“Ah, Mot, what are you doing phoning me so late, where are you this time my friend?”

“Cairo, of course, but more to the point, where the hell are you?”

“Don’t be sillee, mon ami, I am to where you are phoning, in my office here, in Amsterdam. Why? What is the matter, you sound, can I say it, a little perturbèd.” Refaat stressed the last syllable of this verb in his typically Frenchified Arabic version of English.

“Yes I am peturbèd, the envelope with our valuables has gone missing. Do we have the spare still, or have you already sold it to the highest bidder?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, you sound like a storm in a teacup, do not worreee my friend. I have the copy very secure in the ‘otel safe.”

“That’s a bloody relief. Look Refaat, I’m going to be at least 6 weeks, maybe two months in Tanzania, will any of the fruit have ripened on the trees before I get back?”

“That’s difficult to say, we are waiting for the seasons to change, it is now still winter, but we may have some good weather soon, so it could be an early spring.”

“I get your gist. But might you be here in Egypt when I get back from East Africa?”

“The signs are no longer propitious my friend, maybe you should come back to Amsterdam in the Spring. Arafat does not fall in love with the Juifs”

“Yeah - umm, I could do that; but I have a lot of work to get through before then.”

“Don’t worry, your little egg is safe in my nest, yes the nest is right, no?”

“Yes, OK Refaat, I got it, I got to go now.”

“Good luck ami, you worry too much, see you when you get back.”

“Yo, goodnight.”

When I got back to my room, there in the corridor, sitting outside my door like a huge black squatting frog, was my ghetto-blaster.Shocked? I was more than shocked. It was plain eery. I pinched myself and finally picked it up to take into the room where I checked inside the speakers. The envelope was still there! As I had never sealed it, I could not be sure if anybody had read the details inside. It seemed unlikely. I was just so relieved to get the thing back - I needed that formula right away. I had a plan involving Lotte, my comrade in arms from the Otranto ferry. At first I was in two minds to go down again and ask the porter if a member of the staff had put it there for me. But in the end both my tiredness (it was now 2am) and the fact that the hotel authorities may have been involved in its temporary theft made me stop in my tracks. I would probably learn nothing, and in any case what could I do about it?

It was a nuisance. After I had quit Europe I believed that this kind of thing would stop happening. From the day that I had left my African holdall in C.’s car I had lived in a growing state of suspicion and paranoia. And now it seemed to be just going on and on - the bloody Egyptian police surely couldn’t be in on it, and Carla’s husband’s brother couldn’t have such long tentacles, could he? Or, my god, had it gone beyond that already? Was it one of the multinational pharmaceuticals? Yet how the hell had they got on my trail? Dr. Nabakov from the DOA had warned me not to get involved with them, but I had done nothing to let them know of my activities. Or had I? Maybe an associate, someone on my contact list, with funding from one of the big boys, maybe one of them had tipped off a drug company. So it could have been their agent who had been following me, searching my bags and now looking into the ghetto-blaster.

With these thoughts swirling around my head I tried to get some sleep. This was my last night in the Everest, my last in Egypt for quite some time.At least the contact list had been sent, the circle made complete. The receiving group of experts would be ready when I returned. Returning in triumph, yes in great triumph with our saviour, so to speak. If only those in the shadows would leave us alone. And what if one of them from the dark side were one of us?

* * * * *

I was greeted by another great yowling of cats when I entered the dining room the next morning. But there, snug in the corner with her own cattish grin, sat dear old Lotte. It was a bitter-sweet feeling I had that morning, for this was probably the last time I would see her. We were flying in opposite directions today. And that perfume again - always the musk.

“Hi Lotte, mmm that’s some perfume you got on there, probably distilled from the sweat glands of an ox.”

“Yeah kinda musky eh? “

“Did you pour it on your corn flakes as well?”

“Awww, can’t you give a girl a compliment for a change. Did you get everything finished that you wanted to?”

“Yes, I think so, I got me a great little portable typewriter, a real Franco-Egyptian speciality.”

“What’s wrong with a lap top?”

“Too expensive for the sponsors, I don’t have club class status yet.”

“So who is it that pays your expenses?”

“The great British taxpayer, baby. They’ve been paying for nearly ten years now. But I can say no more.”

“And how long have you been travelling like this?”

“On the road with all those bloody bags - yeah, from hotel to train to taxi to airport to hotel to god knows where...........”

“And boats too, we met on a boat remember, but that seems so long ago.”

“Yeh a lifetime in two weeks. It really was a little less than two weeks. But it was 20 lifetimes ago since I left home - 20 lifetimes since August. This year. Bloody hell the same year.”

“Woah there, we are now three weeks into January, you must mean last year.”

“What happened to Christmas and all that?”

“Well I celebrated it in Paris, literally drowning in champagne. Hey, you have never told me where you actually come from.”

“I don’t think I have a real home anymore. They call me The Wanderer, The Wanderer. My home in the UK is being sold from under my feet.”

Lotte bowed down to look under the table at Mot’s feet.

“Nope, no home there.”

“I mean there’s a woman in my house who is gonna sell it without my permission.”

“Aha, but I thought you mentioned Denmark once to me.”

“Yes, that’s my temporary home, a farmhouse in the north, falling down about my ears. Hardly a stick of furniture.”

“And no woman there?”

“That was a long time ago. No the woman who is my wife in all but name, and a thief in name and reality, is more than enough for me at the moment.”

“So where is this woman with the house she stole from you?”

“She is in Wales, the Pays de Galles. My house, my bloody home, where my children were born, is in the Royal Principality.”

“‘Sbad to get so maudlin’ at this time of the day. Is it a Welsh habit?”

“I’m not truly Welsh. Only half Welsh, much to my discredit.”

“Ah, you’re not really Welsh, and you’re not Scottish, like our friend Ian on the boat. I’d guess you were Italian to look at, dark skin, Michelangelo curls.”

“They called me wog at school because of my appearance.”

“What does that mean?”

“Negro. Nigger in effect. So you are going back down south at last. South Carolina.”

“Yep, now that the Bedouin don’t want me anymore. I’m so ugly that not even a poor Sheik would take me for his concubine.”

“Don’t say that Lotte, you’re not conventionally beautiful, true, but so much the worse for convention. You’re beautiful the way you wear your heart on your sleeve. And in your cheeks too.”

“Oooohh, tell me more, tell me more. Where were you last night when I needed you? I can’t stop blushing.” But it wasn’t true. I couldn’t imagine Lotte blush.

”How long has it been for you? On this side of the ditch I mean?” She stared at me intently, trying to check out a double meaning.

“Less than 3 months and I don’t really wanna go home. It’s only Mom and American humble pie that’s waiting for me. I love just driftin’, driftin’ down the River Nile.”

“To change the subject just a little, I have need of your help right now.”

“Only my help???”

“Sshhhh, this is serious. Do you think you could take something to the States for me? To Florida I mean, it’s not far from South Carolina is it?”

“The Florida Keys are more than a thousand miles from my home. So it had better not be that far.”

“The University of Penscola, Florida. It’s not so far is it?”

“Depends what it is you want me to take. No animals or heavy stuff. No drugs.”

“I.... I can’t tell you exactly what. But its small, just a sealed envelope.”

“Why can’t you just send it?”

“Too risky.”

“Too risky?”

“Yeah, you never know who opens the mail. It might just get lost.”

“Needs personal delivery?”

“Yes, to a Professor of Ethno-medicine there.”

“It’s not a bomb, not a chemical, not a a a radioactive piece of of of ......”

“Don’t be melodramatic Lotte - it’s just a piece of paper with some writing on it.”

“In code? In secret code?”

“You could say that. You certainly wouldn’t be able to understand it.”

“Are we......... I mean, am I in danger if I take it?”

“Not if you live the good life. Not if you take it and give it directly to him.”

“I dunno, I really think you are crazy, and I’m sure you are mixed up in something bad, but I know you are not bad. And I must be crazier than you ‘cos I’m gonna do it for you. I don’t know what you’ve got but I would sure like some, and I don’t mean what might be in the envelope.”

“Another lifetime huh. Maybe we will meet again, don’t know where...”

“Don’t know when.”

“Look, the man’s name is Manford, you’ll have to memorise it, as I can’t risk it being written down, least of all on the envelope.”

“And you’re not gonna tell me more, even if I do this for free for you?”

“Trust me, what you are doing is important, not just to me, but for everyone. Especially our disease affected friends.”

“What, it’s to do with **** .......”

Here I had to put my hand over her mouth and shook my head at her.

“No more questions, hey will you do it?”

“Ok, Ok, none of the rough stuff. When does your plane go?”

“12.35 tonight.”

“Then you can see me off at the airport this afternoon. I leave at 4.30.”

“I was going to see the pyramids.”


“I didn’t really see them the first time with my daughter.”

“Come shopping with me instead. I have to get some presents for the familee.”

“Well ok, I have time to kill, and I’m a lousy tourist. We’d better check out first and leave our bags in the office.”

“But not the envelope I hope.”

“That reminds me I have to photocopy it first before I put it in the envelope.”

“Do that in the office, they let you do it yourself.”

“Mmmm, maybe. Can you be outside the office by ten?”

“Sure, see you there, gotta do a lot of sorting out.”

“Check. And I’ll bring the copy of the formula.”

“And is this famous formula a recipe for a love drug or what? Can you make better love on it than grass?”

“Huh, no, it’s more of a post-love drug. Something to get you off the fatal consequences of love in its modern form.”

“Sounds like nothing I need.”

“You never know;”

I went back to my room to pack my luggage and check over my Literature Review which I had been working on the previous day. I wanted it to be in good order before the natural disorder of life and travels in Tanzania overtook me. It consisted of a survey of literature on the various uses of certain plants in the black sub-continent; not only for medicinal, but also for ritual, cooking, eating, drinking and even teeth cleaning purposes. The majority of the material was detailed on a card index system held together by a thick rubber band. Unfortunately some of this material had become lost more than one month prior to my arrival in Egypt, and I had been forced to return to London to the School of African and Oriental Studies library to make some of it good. However, other parts still remained missing, and I hoped to pick up some more of the detailed missing information from the Institute of Tropical Medicine Research in Dar es Salaam. The introductory pages of the draft review had also got lost and I still had to rewrite that. Seeing how many pages of introduction were missing, it got me thinking how this might have happened.

I was en route from the Belgian coast, where I’d been holidaying for a long weekend with some old college friends, to Prague, passing through Germany by train. The journey was a slow one with numerous transfers - first at Cologne, and then again at Stuttgart. After the latter change I settled down in my compartment tout seul, spreading out my Literature Review and cards on the empty seats, as I knew it was a long haul of more than 7 hours to Prague. But no sooner had I done this when the door slid open and a youngish looking blond haired man entered and settled himself opposite me. I thought it prudent to put away my things, but I did so rather over-hastily, stuffing them back into my briefcase, and placing it under the seat. The landscape passing by the window was the usual boring mix of flat river plains and gentle rolling hills, typical of Mitteleuropa. So naturally I turned my attention on my companion. First I played the game of examining his physical appearance in order to guess, as I often did when bored, his origins. I decided he had a vaguely Slavonic rather than German appearance - very blond hair, slightly slanted eyes, projecting thin but straight nose, and high cheek bones. His blue eyes were very clear and piercing, except for the fact that he always turned them away when my gaze met his. The mouth was very delicate for a man, supple and thin long lips that curled up slightly at the corners into a small dimple. They were also too red and wet, set as they were against his pale white skin. All in all his face was very striking, perhaps that of a descendant of a Russian nobleman or a Polish prince. But it also reminded me very strongly of an old schoolboy friend of mine, who indeed had had Polish ancestry. Perhaps that is why I decided to start up a conversation with him.

He himself glanced at me occasionally but showed little curiosity about the papers I cleared away or my bags. I say this in the light of what later happened. His clothes were dishevelled, not so much of a poor quality, but showing signs of having been worn for a long time without change. I realised he was not as young as my impression of him - there were small spider wrinkles at the outer limits of his eyes, and the beginning of a receding hairline above his temples. He was maybe 35 or more, but the cool bright look in his eyes made him seem younger, as did the thrusting pointed chin. His movement, too, as he shuffled rather than strode into the carriage, had been indicative of an older man, though he could just as well have been very tired. His hands could not stop moving about, they brushed both sleeves then rose one after the other to smooth back his long quiff, which otherwise fell into his face. His head moved constantly too, looking from window to the floor, to me, then sweeping again around the compartment to look outside once more. Despite these obvious signs of inner tension, the thought never entered my head that he might have been sent to rob me.

For the fact was I too was very tired and perhaps not as observant as I should have been. So very very tired after my 2000 mile back and forth train journey across Europe, which I had completed in less than 2 weeks. Feeling myself dozing off I thought I must start some kind of conversation with the man.

“Do you speak English? I’m sorry, I can’t speak German very well.”

“Yes, a little.” He replied in a thin reedy voice.

“Do you live in Stuttgart?”

“No, no, I live, no, I stay in Nuremberg with my uncle.”

“Ah, you don’t have a German accent, where do you come from?”

“Bosnia in old Yugoslavia. I am Croat.”

“Yes, and have you been in Germany long?”

“No, I just go there now, second time. I visit my home during one week - last time. I go look for my family. It gone, finished.”

“Sorry, what has gone? I don’t understand.”

“My house, my woman, my kinder, all gone, dead in the war.”

There was a long silence whilst I contemplated the stark meaning of his words.

“Bloody hell, that’s terrible, it’s so so........awful this civil war....” I wanted to say sorry, but sorry is such a uselessly small word. No wonder the guy looked so nervous.

“It’s OK, things can be much more bad, I could be dead, ha, ha...So I must go to Nuremberg again, do a new life, new woman maybe. Are you British?”

“Yes I am, but I’m not living there any more. I’m based in Antwerp at the moment, in Belgium.”

“Is it good place?”

“To live and work you mean?”

“Yes, to find job.”

“It’s not so bad, I’m just beginning there, but I work all over the place, it’s just my base. Hey, I’ve started again there from new, I know how it must feel for you, though of course I haven’t lost........” Here I tailed off again realising I had nothing to compare with his own experiences.

“It can be better than Nuremberg. I stay there two years now. But I don’t understand the Deutschers. They are so, how do you say it....?”

“Stiff, rigid?”

“Yes, I think so - they don’t say much, don’t like to have good time until they are very drunk. Then they shout and shout at me. It do me tired.”

“What do you do in Nuremberg?”

“I work in my Uncle’s cafe. I am waiter. Pay no good.”

“Look, I know it’s not much, but I’ll write you my address in Antwerp. Maybe you could get a job at the hotel where I stay. It’s just a small place, but the people are awfully friendly. Belgians usually are to foreigners. They were to me anyhow.”

“That is kind, but I must stay in Nuremberg, I must pay back Uncle lot of money. Must work for him, but maybe later. What your job?”

Before I could answer his question the train jolted to a halt, and so did our conversation. We both instinctively turned our gazes outside: the train was standing on a long bridge over a wide river - perhaps the Neckar - which swung to the right and cut into a low hill, beyond which there stood a typical little German town settled around a church with white tower and dark red spire. Past the town the too good to be true green meadows came sweeping gently to the river’s edge, full of fat lazy Friesian cattle chewing their cud. I felt tired with the perfection that stood before me, but even more tired of the world of dead endings and impossibly difficult beginnings, of wars and peaces that were a million miles from here and yet which also sat opposite me in the carriage. I could no longer bare to look at the man and imagine what was going on inside him. So I deliberately closed my eyes and was soon fast asleep.

I fell into a dream which obviously drew from our conversation. The scene was a deeply dissected landscape of large snowbound hills. I was walking inside a newsreel film of the war in Bosnia. Burnt out houses and abandoned vehicles clustered around the winding road I had taken, which led deep into the hills. I felt utterly lost and was searching each village I came to for .....what? Perhaps my lost companions, my old friends and family, or maybe just my dog. For there were dogs everywhere, sniffing and pulling at the dead bodies of people and cannibalising other dogs. These wide-eyed creatures, both dead and alive, seemed more hideous than the people, for they were naked, and their nakedness revealed their starving and broken anatomies. But with an artist’s eye I became more and more fascinated by their appearance. Their projecting rib cages were in various degrees of penetration through the disintegrating fur. Their eyes seemed like the saucers of the well known Grimms fairytale. And their ears were the most ragged appendages imaginable, ravaged not only by hunger, but by cold and no doubt the bites from many dog-fights. Even if I had come across my old retriever dog here I doubt whether I would ever have recognised him. I tramped on up and down the endless track through the same repeated scenes of murder and destruction, slowly climbing higher and higher into snowbound passes in which no-one, surprisingly, barred my way. At one point I was astonished to find a ditch full of abandoned weapons, all pointed in different directions like a strange half-submerged thorn tree. But where was I going? Was I escaping? Or was I going home? I seemed simultaneously to have been part of this landscape for my whole life (everything appeared almost too familiar) and yet at the same time I was definitely lost, or at least, no longer with a clear direction. I was absolutely submerged in these contradictory feelings when I suddenly woke again and looked again outside to find that the landscape of my dream was reproduced beyond the carriage window. Were we already approaching the mountain frontier of Czechoslovakia, or by some strange time-warp was I now waking into a past reality? The compartment was empty - was the man who had entered and seemed so vividly alive - was he too a manifestation of my dream?

No, I shook off my confusion, the Bosnian had been real, all too real as I found out the next morning in my Prague flat. He must have left the train whilst I was asleep, at the same time removing some of the papers from my briefcase. I found that the first section of the Review was definitely missing. These were replaceable but it was extra work for me, and more worryingly, it meant that some third party was interested enough in my work to steal it. This was the first time this had happened. So who in reality was my Bosnian friend? And who was he working for? The police? An international pharmaceutical? Or even a disaffected member of our European network? Had he in fact followed me all the way from Stuttgart? I could hardly believe it - he seemed so genuine, and his story of a missing family in the war rang sadly true. Nervous, certainly, but who wouldn’t be after what he had come through. I preferred to think that in my haste to put things away when he had entered my compartment I had dropped some papers down the back of the seat and not recovered them all. But there again there were rather too many sheets and cards missing to really believe this was the cause. This was the beginning of a whole series of paranoia-inducing events in Prague which I shall shortly describe. For it was indeed Czechoslovakia we were then approaching, a fact proven by the entry into my compartment of several leather coated agents of the Czech security services, and the unpronounceable name pasted on the peeling station board on the platform. The agents still exuded the silent menace of a totalitarian regime, rather than the look of a newly found prodigal nation of an old democracy. They looked in great detail at my (genuine) British passport, and with only the briefest glance at my bags, passed on down the train. Just one year after the Velvet Revolution, their presence did nothing to dampen my mounting excitement at entering an eastern European country for the first time in my life. But at this point I must return to the Everest in Cairo where I am still relating these events, as the time is getting close to my final departure for Tanzania and my return to black Africa. The events in Prague in which my attaché case was to play such a starring role, will have to be reserved for later.

I felt strangely serene again after my second meeting with the beautiful and humorous Lotte. It seemed as though I had completely lost my fears of the possibility of an Egyptian Secret Service agent or local pharmaceutical rep. stealing the secrets from my ghetto-blaster. I told myself that it was surely a cleaner, or maybe a neighbour who had wanted to borrow it to amuse himself for a while. Why else had it been returned? I was looking forward to meeting her and spending a few hours being a relatively normal tourist out and about in the big city of Cairo. But first I had to arrange my bags (clothes in holdall, tape machine and tapes in black plastic shoulder bag, assorted garbage in Guatemalan bag, files and other work in Greek satchel, and yes, ghetto-blaster back in its box with new plastic tape handles but minus the formula) and heave them down to the office. I deposited everything there under the beady eye of the balding manager, except my Greek satchel, which I preferred to have with me at all times.

After twenty minutes waiting in the dark lobby by the lifts I decided Lotte wasn’t going to arrive. I went back to the desk where the old Egyptian clerk looked up at me with a broad and vacant stare. “The young American woman, Lotte Somebody, do you know if she’s in?” I asked in the boredest tone I could muster. He gave the faintest of nods and stared towards the key rack. Apparently her key was not there for he then informed me that yes, she probably was, as she had definitely not left the building. Was he going to tell me her room number? Yes, he was, and he did it with his first smile - a rather lascivious one. “Room number 642.”

I took the concrete stairs up the one flight necessary to reach the sixth floor, then strolled slowly down the long corridor counting the numbers. But when I reached 642 and knocked there was no answer. The door swung open at my first attempt to open it and a horrifying sight met my inward gaze. Over the two beds were thrown an enormous mixture of books, magazines clothes, sweets and make up articles, but they were also falling onto the floor. In one corner sat two bags and a backpack with again a bewildering number of personal articles hanging from them or pushed onto the floor. On the window-sill were a mixture of more papers, toilet bags and food all in various degrees of disarray. I had the definite feeling that somehow they, whoever they were, had overheard my latest conversations with Lotte and entered her room in search of the formula, tossing the contents of her bags at random over the room.

But before I could wonder where Lotte herself was, the door from her bathroom suddenly swung open and she herself strode in with a bath towel round her semi-naked body. Her mouth momentarily dropped but she was still quicker off the mark than I:

“Don’t you know it’s rude to enter a lady’s room without knocking? Or did you hope to catch me naked in the shower? Too bad - it’s too late now and I got a lot of packing to do.”

“But my God Lotte, who the hell has made this mess with your things?”

“What mess? That’s the way my room always looks. You sure are paranoid. Why, what did you think someone would be looking for - my virginity? Too late again.”

“Oh nothing, it just seemed so.....” and here I kind of tailed off in embarrassment.

“Look as I said, I still gotta pack and get dressed” - and here she gave a quick glimpse at what was under the towel, but so quick it could have been just a retightening of the thing. “- so why don’t you just take a Turkish coffee downstairs, I’ll only be five minutes.”

I had no answer, just a renewed stare at the mess and a mental recalculation of her given time to 55 + 5 = 1 hour minimum. So I took off, leaping down the stairs three at a time in a kind of celebration of my relief. Maybe I was becoming a mite paranoid. But it was no wonder after surviving Prague.

I first went to my room and took out the formula from the ghetto-blaster, then I hurriedly returned to the main office in order to photocopy it for Lotte. The guy looked at me quizically so I said to him:

“Yes, she was there thank you. How much do I owe you for one copy?”

He waved his hand abstractly above his head without saying anything. I tucked the formula plus copy carefully into my inside pocket, and went into the restaurant yet again for the coffee. I tried to keep up my spirits by reading up on my literature review from my Greek bag, but I just couldn’t concentrate, the whole thing seemed like a waste of time when much more urgent action was necessary. I was tired of justifying my research to a bunch of experts who cared nothing for the lives of Africans, many of whom could be saved if they really just let me get on with my real work. Lotte surprisingly arrived in less than half an hour - just before eleven - and only an hour later than the time she had originally offered me. I tucked away the review but not before she could ask “What’s that load of papers? Your will?” - “And very long testament. No I hope not. I want to leave more behind than that bunch of tired excuses for doing more research.”

We took off on a shortened expedition around town and a lightning visit to the Pyramids. Lotte insisted on accepting every suggestion of our guide and driver to visit markets and shops in order, as she told me, to “get the family a little something.” Lotte had lined up the tour with a company called “El Joker” and it was really living up to its name. I had the sudden realisation that every time Lotte entered a shop and bought some junk imitation Egyptian relic, our driver received a back-hander from the shop-owner. As usual each purchase was accompanied by ten minutes haggling which reduced the price by at least half but still left it too high in my estimation. After more than an hour of this, and having seen very little of what I conceived of as the real Cairo, I began to develop a severe headache.

“When are we going to get to the Pyramids?” I moaned.

“Pyramids? Pyramids 50 shillings extra - not in contract. This Cairo tour.” intoned the driver.

“Oh God Lotte, I’ve got such a headache, maybe it’d be better if I got out here and took a bus back to the hotel.”

“Bus? Are you crazy? Look I only got to get a few more things for my nephew and niece then I’ll come back with you.”

“I think it would be better if we met at the hotel. You got to be back there soon, your flight is 4.30pm isn’t it?”

“That’s check in time - no rush.”

“Well come and pick me up at the hotel, if I feel better I’ll come out with you to the airport.”

“Well OK - but get a cab it’s quicker and safer. Then take a tab.”

“Nothing’s quicker in Cairo traffic, but yes, it’s quieter, I’ll get a cab.”

Two hours later Lotte returned and woke me with a gentle knock on my door. I was still feeling bad and hung over and I put it down to my imminent departure on a 6 hour flight to Nairobi.

“Hi, you OK?”

“Sort of. Look Lotte, I’m sorry but I can’t see you off. It’s a long flight tonight for me and my body is telling me I need to sleep first. You see I can never fly when I sleep.”

“Sleep when you fly.”

“Eh what? Yes, of course, sleep when I fly, not even on an overnight flight. It’s not just the sleep either, I’m kind of allergic to flying, got what you might call aeroplanitis.”

“Aeroplanitis - what in the hell is that?”

“Well, every time I fly my immune system goes crazy. I pick up the smallest bug, I feel completely sacked after the flight, and I get terrible kidney pains in my back. In fact that’s why I came to Cairo overland - just to shorten this flight to Nairobi, and if I could find a boat to Mombasa I’d rather take it. If I go above 10,000 feet I always get the same symptoms.”

“Since when?”

“Since the time three years ago I almost died on the way home from Dar es Salaam.”

“Just from flying?”

“No, that was the first time. I used to be OK in the air. But I had already contracted several lethal stomach bugs that time from a Chinese meal the night before I flew. It became the worst flight of my life and my liver was permanently damaged.”

“You mean the flight made your infection worse?”

“Yes, I think so, I don’t think it would have been so bad if I’d stayed on the ground. But I didn’t know I had a problem until I was in the air.”

“ So what happened on the plane?”

“Well I spent most of it in the john puking and heaving out my bowels, but the stewardesses didn’t seem to want to understand what was wrong with me. When I got to London it was my friends and not the airline staff that rushed me to hospital - I think the latter were just glad I was off their hands.”

“And how long were you in hospital?”

“About two weeks, but I was completely delirious with a temperature over 102 for the first week. Then it took me six months to get back my strength, though I’ve never been completely the same since then. My liver is shot, that’s why I get the back pain, it’s all the junk that goes out through my kidneys that should have been broken down by the liver.”

“So I don’t blame you for not liking to fly.”

“Well, sometimes it’s as if my body knows it has to go up there and rebels before I even get off the ground.”

“It’s funny ‘cos I kinda knew you had a back problem ever since I saw you get off the ferry in Ignoumenitsa. You were kind of bent forward with all those bags hanging off you. Is that why you never use a backpack?”

“That’s not my style - but yeah it would be difficult for me to handle.”

“Are you in pain now?”

“Not in my back - more hung over feeling. I just want to sleep. So look, why don’t you take this copy of the formula with you now.”

I drew out the photocopy from under my pillow and handed it to her.

“Wow - so this is the Holy Grail. Shame I can’t read Latin. Nor all these chemical symbols. Looks like alchemy to me.”

“No I assure you it’s hard science, but it will only work if it’s in the right hands. Put it somewhere safe. The address for Manford is on the back. Give it to him personally, and do not, do not, I repeat send it or leave it for him. He will be expecting it. Can you do that for me?”

“I don’t know why I should. I only met you two weeks ago and you are a pretty weird kind of a guy. But I guess I will. Pensacola isn’t too far really. Tell me again - am I really saving the world. Oh gosh oh golly gee.”

“Well let’s say it will make a big difference in a couple of years, maybe several million people will be still alive who otherwise would be dead. If, and it’s a big if, this all goes through. A lot counts on me and who I’m gonna bring back to Europe, but I can’t talk about that just now.”

“But how will I know if you are successful? Can’t you tell me more?”

“Well, if you don’t hear it on the news one day then you know I will have failed. I’ll probably have been killed.”

“What? Really? You can’t mean that. What could happen to you? And does that mean I’m in danger too? I mean, the people after you....” and she looked round the door back into the corridor at this point, “could they come after me?”

“It’s possible but highly unlikely. Have you shut the door properly? Yeah - I was followed in Europe, through Germany, Czechoslovakia, and even to my home in Denmark, but I think I shook them in Italy. Here I’ve seen no-one on my tail. Only one thing - the temporary disappearance of my ghetto-blaster - makes me suspicious.”

“But you got that back. It was probably a cleaner.”

“Maybe - the problem is my copy of the formula was in the speaker.”

“Then someone could have copied it. But who?”

“No, I don’t think so, I don’t want to think that they are here in Africa too.”

“But if they are that means I’m in danger too. They may be already on to me.”

“No, no, I don’t think so. Just act your normal self - go back home and see all your family. Then after a month without problems go down and see Firemen.”

“Yeah, I could go down for a little Easter vacation in Florida. And even if they are following me I’ll shake them off - whoever they are. I still can’t believe it - why did you choose me? It’s like working for an alternative CIA.”

“You were sent, no don’t get me wrong - you were just in the right place at the right time - and I know somehow I can trust you. But not a word, you hear, not to anyone, least not before the delivery. It’s safer that way for you too.”

“Yep, trust me, it’s gonna be delivered, but is there anything I can do for you before I go - a head massage or something?”

“No, Lotte - if you do this for me, I will always be in your debt, and, not just me, I mean all of us, especially those who are saved. Now just let me get some sleep. I feel like I haven’t slept in three months, not since I left Denmark the first time back in the beginning of November.”

Lotte finally went leaving a light kiss on my temple and I fell into a dream about Denmark my lost home. Yes, it had been a long time since I had lived in peace there in my little hideaway farmhouse in the north. But that peace had been rudely shattered in less than three months of my arriving there last July. I had only just begun to put together the European network and then something strange happened before I left on my travels in order to meet and confirm the support of those who were, at that time, mostly only names on a list to me. I had gone to the station of our local small town in order to collect Carla., who had come all the way from Belgium to help in my preparations and come with me on the first leg of my visits. Up until that moment I had lived in anonymous bliss, only having occasional contact with two of the local people, neither of whom knew the nature of my work. In any case I had rarely ventured out of my isolated lair hidden away deep in the Danish forests close to the north-western coast. I was busy working on the Literature Review, making occasional visits to Aarhus university, and finalising by post (I hadn’t even a telephone) my itinerary for the forthcoming tour - which was highly unofficial. Luckily my sponsors had also agreed to fund several visits to major European university libraries, and this helped pay for the secret tour of my contacts.

In short I believed that my plans were secret and never dreamt that the Danish police had already taken an interest in them. After I picked up Carla. from the small station on the outskirts of the town in my little mustard Fiat we suddenly hit some mist on that early autumn day. I had already put on my lights, as was legally required in Denmark - day or night - but I suddenly realised that they were hardly working. I stopped to take a look at them on the crest of a brow and was just looking under the bonnet at the battery connections when a man in a heavy leather raincoat came out of the mist and declared he was a policeman. I could then just make out the car he had arrived in parked a few meters behind our own. There were also three other figures at a little distance from our car, glancing around as if they suspected the arrival of a third party from somewhere. The policeman asked me for my identity papers and those of my companion. We both produced our passports and I presumed he just wanted to warn us about our defective headlights, but at first he never said anything about them. Instead he asked me (and not Carla) how long I had been in Denmark (I had no resident’s permit) and how long I intended to stay. I told him I was on an extended holiday recovering from an illness, but I was now planning to leave within a week or so. I thought it strange that his car had no police markings, so I asked him if he was from the local police. This he confirmed but somehow I still had my doubts, but I didn’t dare ask him for proof of identity. He asked me whether I intended finding work in Denmark and if so what kind. So I told him it had crossed my mind, and I had contacted several universities as I was a biologist researcher by profession. This was near enough to the truth to confirm the innocence of my movements in Denmark if, as I suspected, he knew more about me than he was letting on. Then he asked me where I was going now, so I told him I was headed home. Then he joked that this road was not in the direction for England, and when I went to tell him exactly where my farmhouse was he suddenly proclaimed that it wasn’t necessary to tell him as he knew exactly where I lived. It was if he wanted to gently warn me that they had me in their books and would be carefully observing my next move. As he left he finally turned and said:

“Oh by the way you should get your headlights fixed, it’s against the law to drive without them even in the day.” This finally confirmed to me that he was no ordinary cop - otherwise surely he would have mentioned this first or even booked me for the offence.

As we drove away slowly through the thickening evening mist it was the very first time that I had felt uneasy in Denmark, my temporarily adopted home. But by the time I left the place for good two months later in mid December, I was feeling absolutely paranoid. I can’t tell you all the steps that led up to this paranoia, but I must mention the last step, as it involved an attack on my briefcase, the least loved perhaps, but the most singularly important item of my luggage. And I do believe there must have been a link between that conversation in the misty rolling countryside of Thy and what happened to the attaché case in Copenhagen much later. Otherwise I wouldn’t have prefaced this account of the savage attack on my black box with a short summary of that conversation. But poor reader, you need to know a little more detail on the background to this attack, otherwise you will be lost in the hundred threads of my longer story.

I had spoken the truth to the inspector or whoever he might have been: within the following week I left Denmark for my month long tour of various European capitals and major cities, drumming up support for our circle of practitioners. But I did return for several visits to the country, mostly to Copenhagen, with at least one visit to the north in order to collect my newly repaired car. It was on this last visit when I drove from Thy to the capital, via the ferry from Aarhus to Kalundborg, that I had the feeling that I was definitely being followed. It was nothing specific, just a general feeling that my movements around and between the universities of Aarhus and Copenhagen were not what they had been before - innocent searches for future academic and financial support for the extension of my research in Africa. No, on the last occasions there was a certain negativity from the staff who had so willingly co-operated before and backed my project. There was an unease in their manner to me, and even my browsings in the libraries of both universities were accompanied by a feeling of my activities being monitored in some way. There was one occasion when I was sure that my books and papers had been slightly rearranged in my absence, but I couldn’t swear to it. On others I kept feeling that certain members of the library staff were taking too greater interest in the journals I ordered from the stocks but it didn’t amount to anything I could challenge or prove. On the road I was constantly nervous of the cars following behind me even though there didn’t seem to be one particular vehicle on my track. In Copenhagen all went much better, and I was beginning to believe that I was imagining it all. I stayed in a friend’s apartment close to the main station, not a very close friend, and so it was that I left most of my belongings in the locked car at night. The car was packed with not only my normal bags, but also boxes of clothes and papers I would not need and was transferring back to the UK during my longer travels to Africa. But the briefcase was the whole time with me during the last days of my meetings with my counterparts, except, crucially on the night before my planned early departure to drive to Belgium and later on to the UK.

The last day in Copenhagen had been filled with important meetings with fellow researchers and backers for the next phase of my activities in East Africa. I was awaiting an important decision from the Danish Foreign Ministry on my funding, having already had academic approval from the University of Copenhagen. One of the most influential linkmen in this process was Dr. Herschenberger-Kierkegaard, Deputy Director of the Institute for Tropical Diseases. I had been introduced to him two months earlier at a conference in Hamburg, and he had welcomed my presentation there as a major contribution in the search for possible cures for a disease that he himself had great interest in. This interest was not just academic, the disease had killed his former fiancée, who herself had been a researcher in Southern Africa. His competence was more medical than ethnobotanic, and so although he could not be a reference for me with the Danish government, he nevertheless introduced me to the top ethno-botanist Willy Faber who specialised in the research into Chinese Herbs and their use in Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM). Faber was a senior statesman in European ethno-botany, and his signature on my application for funds should have been the kiss of life for my long awaited project to bring back the herbs from East Africa for testing in Faber’s laboratory. Herschenberger-Kirkegaard also sent me to a Swedish anthropologist, now working for the World Health Organisation in Geneva, who was a top expert in East African traditional medicine. This was Frans Schmøll, whose name was also soon on my application as a referee. Although he was not Danish, Schmøll had spent most of his previous academic life researching and teaching in Danish universities.

I had in fact gone to the local WHO office next to the Tuborg brewery that very morning, and Schmøll had assured me that in the committee stage of the application, everything had gone very well for my project. He told me that the minister’s office would almost certainly give me approval within a few days. From there I went to have lunch with Herschenberger-Kierkegaard in the refectory of the Rigshospitalet, close by his office. After a wonderful dinner discussion on the merits of the composer Carl Nielsen as against Bruckner, we strolled down to Faber’s labs to see if he had yet unravelled the chemical wonders of ginseng. Denmark was a fantastic place to be based at this time in the early nineties as it seemed as though the old academic walls built between hard science and so called alternative forms of treatment were fast crumbling here, and re-knowned scientists and medical researchers were investigating the most way out practices.

A secretary showed us up to Faber’s laboratory where we found him busy with pipettes and test tubes, and dressed in the filthiest of lab-coats. The contrast between the two pairs of doctors, the one master the other former student, could not have been greater. H.K. was incredibly lanky and thin, probably two meters tall, and dressed in an anonymous light grey suit which was slightly too small for him. He looked like an outsize schoolboy on his first day of school, not nervous but always weaving and dodging around in perpetual motion as he stood there. Fabbio was almost half his size, replacing the lab-coat with an equally dirty and worn out sweater, which he pulled over his greasy silver grey hair in order to cover a sizeable paunch. Despite the obvious differences I could see that H.K. still worshipped his former teacher. Faber declared that he was close to publishing the results of his ginseng research, results which he claimed would lead to a stampede of drug companies trying to get a piece of the action. H.K. introduced me and it was with great pleasure that I realised Faber had taken sometime to read my own papers. Although his speciality was Chinese Medicines now, he also took a keen interest in herbs from Africa and the Amazon too. He outlined the planned research on the Chinese meridians, those lines of energy said to be a key organising principle in the body, and he excitedly told us that a Chinese micro-biologist and a Danish radiologist working under his guidance had already come up with some tentative but very positive results. Unlike most scientists he was convinced they existed, because, he proclaimed, he had witnessed many operations in China with the sole use of needles placed on the meridians to anaesthetise the patients. He then went on to tell us that he too was supervising a lot of semi-alternative research into the great disease with which I was also concerned.

“This thing, this terrible scourge, will not be easily resolved, I have a feeling deep down here in, what do you English say? In the guts?”

“Yes Dr. Faber, I would totally agree with you, but there are some rays of hope, and I don’t mean this ridiculous search for a vaccine - that’s an utter waste of time.”

“In this case I would have to agree with you. Nevertheless there are some exciting tests going on with Chinese herbs.”

“Well I hope you don’t work with control groups of dying sufferers - that would be too cruel for words if the experimental group showed any signs of success.”

“It is true we are a little restricted by our need to keep to the scientific method, but I shall never let it deprive sufferers of possible help.”

“I hope not. I have great hope that within two years we might have the cure. That is precisely why I need to get these Danish funds - to go to Africa and bring back the man who has found a remarkable treatment for this scourge. But maybe this scourge is also a great lesson for our arrogant species.”

“Aahh, I had a suspicion that was your intention Mot, reading between the lines of your application I could see that you might use the funds for a more direct solution. But what is the evidence for the success of this man’s treatments?”

“You would not believe me if I told you and that is why I have to bring him back, not only to you, but also to many in the alternative medicine camp. You see I think that if we only leave it in the hands of science the whole process will take too long and many people who could be saved will already be dead. But if we distribute the knowledge to the healers and herbalists - bingo - we will suceed that much quicker.”

Herschenberger-Kierkegaard looked worried and then broke in:

“But if the substances are not properly tested first for safety...”

“Oh, I understand your worries, but as far as I’m concerned they have already been tested in Africa on hundreds of people over the past year with no side effects, quite the contrary.........but it is not just a case of a herbal remedy, unique as it is in its basis, its preparation and even administration. I believe that the whole thing will not work without the shaman’s magic and that is why he has to be here, to use it himself, and to find his apprentices.”

“But this is incredible if it works....”

“It will work, Dr. Faber, believe me, I have seen it work, and in so many cases. Even the Tanzanian Ministry of Health is planning to visit my friend to see his work in person.”

“But do you already have the formula.....?”

“Ahh, the formula, yes I have it, but as I said, it needs the man too. I’m getting to the point where I would like to dispense with the scientific method altogether, it only holds things up, and in anycase, those who want to believe will believe in it, others whose eyes are closed will always remain blind to its possibilities, no matter how many it cures.”

“So you do not even wish to publish your results?” Faber turned his head to one side and looked at me through the corner of his glasses in a most off-putting way.

“Of course I will publish but when the time is right and the evidence is incontrovertible - with or without scientific testing.”

“The Danish government should certainly give you the money for the work in Africa, Schmøll and I have seen to that, unless of course there are hidden political motives for stopping you.”

“What do you mean political?”

“The political priorities could change, or they just might find something in your background they take an objection has happened before.”

“Don’t be so pessimistic Willy,” interrupted Herschenberger-Kirkegaard “what could they possibly object to?”

“No I think Dr. Faber might be right. If they dig deep enough they will find something, and especially as I’m not Danish......”

“That should have no bearing on it, as long as the project is right for them, and I believe it’s in their and everybody’s interest to foster your work.” concluded Faber, but he had already sowed the doubt in my mind that was to grow and grow.

We went on discussing my future trip until it was time for me to go back to the flat where I was staying in order to get changed for my last night in Copenhagen. I will tell you about that on a future occasion as it was an adventure all to itself, but was not directly connected with the theft that occurred later during the night, a theft that was to signal the beginning of my disillusion with Denmark as a free and open country. Whatever political thing Faber was pointing to became a reality before the end of that month when I received my rejection for Danish funding. My disillusionment was finally made complete by this refusal of the government to grant me research money for the African trip, on the sole and flimsy excuse that I would not be likely to return to Denmark or allow my research to have a specific benefit to the Danish university system. This, despite me having stayed six months in the country and having cultivated strong links with two major universities, mostly at my own expense. No, I can now feel the dreaded hand of the higher Danish authorities in my affairs, maybe the secret police, who had already been watching me in my northern home, and who made their final move that last night in Copenhagen. But at that time I was unaware of my failure to find funds, and although the theft that occured was unlike a common robbery, I was loathe at the time to make the connection between it and any official interest in my work. But now I realise that I had been watched all along, since my very first weeks in Denmark, and my erratic movements between August and December of that year, leaving and entering the country on numerous occasion for destinations all over Europe, plus my living in such a remote area without any visible means of income, must have made the authorities suspicious as to my true intentions. Denmark had one of the few borders in Europe at that time which was still tightly controlled by the police and douaniers. Perhaps they believed I was involved in running drugs across the border, or even more hideous and dangerous contraband. And once I made my application for funds for an ethno-botanic project in Africa, maybe they put two and two together and came up with five.

But when I came back much later that night and checked my car as I collected my Guatemalan bag with my night things, I had no inkling of a suspicion that things were about to become worse. I locked the car carefully, but stupidly left my black briefcase there inside, battered hero of many previous journeys. I walked from the car directly into the flats behind the grand central Copenhagen station where lived my host for the night: Tima the one eyed Kurd, a political refugee from Iraq, and gatekeeper to an organization that helped Eastern European & Middle Eastern refugees in Denmark. We had met a year earlier at a cultural function in Copenhagen, to which I was brought by the leader of the refugee organization, who just happened to be one of the leading alternative therapists, a retired psychiatrist, who now had a thriving art and drama therapy school in Holstebro in the north. Tima was his lieutenant and concierge for the centre in downtown Copenhagen, which provided about 10 transit bedrooms in a huge apartment behind the station. There was always one or two rooms free there to which Tima always grudgingly admitted me, he being a jealous gatekeeper, and suspicious of my need for accommodation, despite the patronage I received from his master in Holstebro. I think he suspected me of being some kind of stool pigeon for the authorities, perhaps of spying on the movements of the refugees, many of whom had no official entry permits. I in turn saw him as a potential stool pigeon, maybe a double agent, so intense was his questioning of me at times. On this night, however, he had already gone to bed and I had my own key. My main concern the next day was with the theft that took place from my car that night, which I could not suspect as having any connection with Tima.

I got up early the next morning to set off on my long drive to London via Antwerp. But I did not have to use my key to open the car door, it was already unlocked with, mysteriously, no sign of forced entry. Inside the car all my things had been turned upside down, and some of them, particularly the contents of my briefcase, had been thrown on the floor. The little estate car was certainly not as I had left it, but to ascertain if anything was missing, I had to repack it all and carry it up to Tima’s empire. He was by then already up, but was not glad to see me, on the contrary he greeted my announcement of the break-in with great skepticism, he merely thought it was an excuse to get another free night’s lodging out of him. After an hour of carefully sorting through my things I was able to disabuse him of his false assumptions by finally clearing out. But I was still in a state of shock from the break in and was now further upset to find that many of my botanic index cards were missing, and, strangely enough, some of my papers detailing my application for money from the Danish government. Not an ordinary thief thus, but it was difficult to check what other more personal items may have been missing, as I had bundled into my car just about all my possessions in Denmark when I had left the farmhouse up in the north. This was the first major intrusion into my luggage, but it was not to be the last, as we shall see. Who was looking and for what continued to perplex me as I left the Danish border and drove doggedly through northern Germany. As I said before, at that time I didn’t have grounds to suspect the Danish authorities, preferring to believe that it might be a drugs company who had caught wind of my African researches. But later, as you will see, I had the proof of the authorities’ involvement.

Though I would very much like to continue my story from the Everest in Cairo, and from Nairobi southwards to the final episode in the African bush, as I am already in Northern Germany en route to London, maybe it is more convenient to speak now about my halt along the Hamburg Bremen autobahn, which also involved, albeit in a very slight manner, a small mishap to my black briefcase.

The Franco-Egyptian TypewriterChapter 4

Posted by Graham Thompson Sun, March 13, 2016 11:08:38

4. The Franco-Egyptian Typewriter

I must stop playing these old tapes or I will never finish this history. I was on my way out of Everest, having just got my photocopies and now in search of a portable typewriter. The contact list still lay unsent and untyped in my Greek bag, which hung from my shoulder. I had been sent towards the bus quarter of Cairo, a section completely unknown to me, and after wandering around asking various passers-by the street name I had on my piece of paper (in Arabic), I gave up in vain and sat in a cafe to ponder my next move. An ocean tide of humanity was rushing past me in the street and a one-eyed waiter nervously attended me. Perhaps he might know this address? The patch over his right eye couldn't stop winking at me as he spluttered out his instructions towards a quarter I'd never been to before. He called a legless infant who was sitting in the gutter to take me to the typewriter repair shop. To my horror the child also had no arms, but moved by way of a crutch strapped under his slightly longer left stump, which pushed the wide skateboard on which he sat along the gutter. This improbable victim of yet another probable pharma disaster turned out to be astonishingly fluent in English.

In fact he was not at all the child I had taken him to be but rather a mature and intelligent youth. En route to our destination he quizzed me about my real purpose in Cairo. Of course, this I could not divulge, even to a limbless street urchin. But why, he asked, do I stay in such a hole as the Everest? His mother had a very nice pension not far from this quarter were I might find cheaper and much cleaner rooms. With free breakfast and many other hinted at extras. I pointed out that, as I was leaving the next day, it would be pointless to move accommodation, but if he had a card or could write his mother's address......Too late I realised my faux pas. But my diminutive roller skating friend merely laughed. No he could not write, but would dictate to me the name and address of her hostelry. This he did, being careful to spell out the words with perfect English intonation. He signalled our arrival at the store for old and delinquent typewriters, whose window was a 50's museum of picture advertisements for ancient machines. My friend rolled off with a faintly ironic Arabic salutation.

Inside was stifling and poorly lit, but a young woman in a surprisingly modern costume - something between a white boiler suit and a frou frou skirt with blue stockings - promptly offered her services in broken but plausible English. Behind her head was a large pigeon-holed rack of lugubrious second-hand typewriters which covered the whole side wall as it ran into the distant gothic shadings of the back of the shop. Each machine was in gleaming condition despite its age, and the overall effect was one of a huge orchestra of strange instruments waiting to strike up their letters in a cacophony of frenzied tappings. Business was obviously good despite the proximity of the computer age, for there were at least five assistants dealing with a questioning throng of small businessmen.

“Do you have anything smaller?” I ventured, nodding towards the great rack behind the counter, “I really need the smallest of portables for my travels.”

“Oh yes no problem, follow me.”

We passed towards the back of the shop, up a short flight of stairs and into a wide workroom where more than ten young boys of teenage years laboured away in their dirty white djellebiahs. The benches at which they worked were strewn with the insides of machines great and small, revealing themselves rather like the miniaturised inners of gutted grand pianos. This constant act of surgery and repair was being carried out at high speed, yet without a conductor or master worker. The crescent lights from the heavily shaded light bulbs splashed across the benches picking out odd letters and dismembered arms, yet high above was a heavy darkness that seemed to wear down upon us all. My Egyptian Princess of Type motioned me to the very back of the complex, where she pulled out the draw of an incredibly heavy filing cabinet to reveal a series of portable machines, strung there like a set of hanging files.

“We have a model which might be fitting your specific needs sir” she said, pulling out a thin grey gun-metal box and laying it on the table. I did not recognise it at all as a typewriter, for it was just 5 cms. wide, and only the ivory handle, tucked into the corner of the metal, revealed it as something portable. Otherwise it more resembled an anonymous grey box, a cousin, probably, to the black ones looked for after every air disaster. Suddenly she pushed a button somewhere invisible to me, and swang back the lid, which in turn made the inners of the machine sit up in readiness for the users touch. Astonished, I automatically stroked the miniature smoke grey polished keyboard, and admired the intricacy of the lustreless arms of the individual letter types. It appeared perfect for my needs - not too heavy despite its all metal construction; compact; and, above all, strong enough to withstand the hazards of my journeys across two continents. When I learnt that the the make was French or Belgian - the name “de Rooy” stood sign written on the cover - it sealed my love for the new contraption which was just about to enter my life, and luggage stocks. This, despite the fact that there was the disturbing presence of letters such as é, à, and ç. To my inquiry the woman assured me that everything worked perfectly well on the machine as it had just been restored and checked by the senior repair expert. Furthermore the price, at 90 Egyptian shillings was extremely reasonable. In fact, it was well within my budget, and despite my slight misgivings that I might find a seventh piece of luggage the proverbial straw etc. etc., I paid up immediately and left to return to my room in the skies. I could not wait to attack my contact list with my new found toy.

When I finally settled to type the precious thing I discovered that some of the levers that swang the letter types onto the paper were slightly bent, resulting in words that looked rather seasick. No matter how hard I tried to straighten them the letters would still not strike the paper neatly and vertically. In fact they became more easily stuck and often intertwined around one another. Even worse there was a sticking “p” that always led to overwritten letters on top of it - a rather interesting foible that slowed my progress with the list even further. But I had no time to return to the shop to complain about these faults, and in any case my love for this crazy machine was increased by these rather intriguing imperfections. Here is a reproduction of my first contact list:

In the interests of truth, and also as a guide to some of my past destinations I am forced to divulge these addresses at this point. I have no wish to betray the confidences of my fellow workers, but I cite them here as witnesses to my own demise and that of my luggage. Some of them were witnesses to the piecemeal and tragic loss of my life work. The task we were trying to achieve we may seem to have failed in at this moment of time - largely due to the bewildering reactions and machinations of the authorities at large. However I do admit some of this result is down to my own errors, and, that sometimes representatives of some authorities showed a receptive ear, and more rarely, a willing hand, even if they had to hide their actions from their ultimate superiors. Despite our abject failure, I do believe we planted seeds for the future - it may be a long time, but there will be others who will take our place, fired by the knowledge of what we set out to do. A new network will rise up with similar aims, and the saving of the human race will again become its priority. In this way I’m sure, The History of My Luggage will not have been written in vain. Sad that there is not enough time to plan what I need to say and place it in its proper context and order. Sad also that due to the crossings and re-crossings of my route the memory of precise dates and places is sometimes a little hazy.

Yes I spent most of the rest of that day typing up then sending out this list to our members. At last I had completed the circle after four months non-stop travel and meetings all across Europe between September 1991 and now. With it I sent a letter and a recorded tape, explaining briefly some of my harassments, and my plans in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. I promised them I would return within two months with the answer to our prayers, or, even better, the man who could provide it.

Unknown to me at the time, this would be almost the last time I used the typewriter. At least for its primary purpose. But nevertheless I dragged it across two and a half continents and back again. It was so solid and unmistakably unlike my other luggage items that it never became detached from me, though several custom officers would like to have tried to do so, suspecting I guess that it might have been some kind of terrorist bomb.

A History of Everybody Else's LuggageChapter 3

Posted by Graham Thompson Sun, January 31, 2016 22:40:13

I will return to the typewriter and the young blond who is patiently waiting for the next morning's breakfast to renew my acquaintance, but first I must sketch out the marvellous trialogue that occurred on that midnight crossing of the straits of Otranto, drifting as we were, ever closer to the Orient. Yes two became three, because by the time I had caught up with Ian, he had already corralled a Californian woman called Lotte from Salinas on the floor under the gangway stairs, and so I joined them, piling my not inconsiderable luggage in protective formation all around us. We soon became a kind of unofficial left luggage office for all the gypsy youth of the world. Ian seemed to have already described what little he knew of my character to Lotte, as she began with the words:

LOTTE: I want to hear your story, you sound like a really weird person.

RESTTORYELL: Thank you, I take that as a compliment.

LOTTE(Laughing): Definitely. No, come on, what do you do?


LOTTE: Naw, come on, are you some kinda underground person?

IAN: I haven't seen Greece for ten years.

RESTTORYELL: For me it's twenty. No totally overground.

LOTTE: I dunno then, a psychoanalyst?

RESTTORYELL: Maybe a psychotic analyst?

IAN: No he's not a spy, and he's not a shrink.

LOTTE: You mean you already know?

RESTTORYELL: He has his suspicions, just like you. Try: anthropologist. Or botanist.

IAN: Yeah one of those might fit, you go around measuring the sizes of

ancient skulls.

RESTTORYELL: Way off, I didn't mean that kind of anthropologist. I'm not so good with the physical. Try living people not dead.

IAN: Ah, a SOCIAL anthropologist, you study culture and living people, strange people.

LOTTE: Are you studying us?

RESTTORYELL: Why not? But not for the academy. I'm something like a ethno-sociowhatsit but without the qualifications.

LOTTE: What then, some kind of writer?

RESTTORYELL: Bingo, I write.

LOTTE: And can I read something you've published?

RESTTORYELL: I don't believe in publishing my work or otherwise

prostituting my talents.

IAN: He doesn't believe in publishing his work... my God, he doesn't........

LOTTE: What do you do with it then?

RESTTORYELL: I tell it, if anybody wishes to listen.

IAN: You mean like an ancient teller of fairy tales and myths.

RESTTORYELL: No, I only tell true tales, but that's enough about me, what about you Ian. What are you?

IAN: You should be able to guess after all that I've already told you about my reasons for visiting Greece.

LOTTE: Some kind of scientist....

RESTTORYELL: You must be a Libran archaeologist with a family background in Scotland and Italy. You're a Libran, you were born in September.

LOTTE: Wow, is that all true?

IAN: Ha! Yes to the archaeologist and Scotland. BUT NO I'm not Libran, I'm Aries. I was born in March.

LOTTE: Are you good at guessing signs?

IAN: Well he got mine wrong, and I've no Italian blood.

RESTTORYELL: Not that you know of.

IAN: No no no, I've gone back a wee way and I'm sure......

RESTTORYELL: Eastern err..European ......

LOTTE: I have problems with all those professions that begin with the letter A.....

IAN: No, no, you've got it wrong again laddie...

RESTTORYELL: Well if you're not Libran, you're definitely Libran ascendant, you have the eyes, the Libran eyes......

LOTTE: Whadya mean the Libran eyes ....?

RESTTORYELL: Yeah. Can't you see he's got those slightly slanting Libran eyes, beautiful....

LOTTE disbelievingly): Libran eyes....give me a break.

RESTTORYELL: No, look, Libran eyes - they're set slightly apart, big beautiful eyes, with thick eyebrows that slant.....

LOTTE: You mean the sign that you're born in makes for the set of your eyes?

RESTTORYELL: Yeah, didn't you know that?

IAN: And of course they're well balanced.

LOTTE: Signs are about where your stars are, not about the way you look, you've completely missed the point.

RESTTORYELL: Yeh but they form your face as well.

LOTTE: No they don't, signs, signs, they form your..... stars not your face. He hasn't got a Libran face, you're wrong, I totally disagree with you. I mean, does he have Libran feet?

RESTTORYELL: No, he doesn't, they're too big for Libran feet.

LOTTE: You're wrong, you're wrong.

IAN: Maybe I do have Libran feet, I can kick equally well with


LOTTE: You're both wrong, you're crazy.

RESTTORYELL: I think his feet are Andromeda actually.

LOTTE (staring for the first time at Ian's feet): They are kind of colossal.

RESTTORYELL: OK then, can you name me the seven ancient wonders of the world?

LOTTE: Yes, one's the Grand Canyon, one's....

RESTTORYELL: No, no, no, I'm not talking about those natural ones, I'm talking about the original ones, the ancient Greek, well you know Mediterranean ones out of ancient history.

LOTTE: Oh those...

IAN: Well, there's the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

RESTTORYELL: Right, that's number one.

IAN: There ....was.........

LOTTE: There's Meso...potamia.......

IAN: That's the Hanging Gardens...

RESTTORYELL: That's just what he said.

LOTTE: Oh right.

IAN: There's the Colossus of Rhodes.

RESTTORYELL: Yep, right, what happened to them?

IAN: They fell down 'cos they're not there now.

RESTTORYELL: They're in the harbour, so they think, they're in the water, some people claim to have been down there and seen them, but the pictures are fuzzy, no good....but carry on, number three?

IAN: Eerrrmmmm.......I'm not doing very well with two am I?

RESTTORYELL: What happened in Alexandria when the Muslims got there?

IAN: Ah yes, they sacked the library.

RESTTORYELL: Yeah, burnt it down. So that's Alexandria library number three. There was another there too.....

IAN: You mean the lighthouse?

RESTTORYELL: Yep and it’s still there.

IAN: Not the original one surely?

RESTTORYELL: No, the original one burnt down just like the library. They probably put too much wood on the fire at the top.. OK number four. What happened in Greece, what disappeared in Greece?

LOTTE (excitedly): Atlantis!

RESTTORYELL: Right! Santoreeni.

IAN: What about it?

RESTTORYELL: There was a wonder of the world there. It was destroyed when Atlantis went up. Or rather went down when the volcano went up.

IAN: A temple?

RESTTORYELL: There was a temple, a very fine temple.

IAN: The Temple of ZEUS?

RESTTORYELL: Yeah, that's right. OK number five, any more?

LOTTE: Ha ha ha ha ha that was a sheer guess Ian!.

RESTTORYELL: Don't worry I'm making it up too!

IAN: No, there wasn't a temple in Santorini. But I can't remember.........

RESTTORYELL: No, I can't, I can't remember if...

IAN: Wait a minute, the Temple of Zeus was in Athens.

RESTTORYELL: That's right yeah.

IAN: There was a Temple of Zeus completed by....

RESTTORYELL: What about Solomon's Temple, wasn't that supposed to be.........

IAN: Naaair. That's mythological.

LOTTE: That qualifies then!

RESTTORYELL: What do you mean it's mythological? They have the bloody basement still in Jerusalem. It's not mythological.

IAN: Oh I'm sorry that temple, yeah. But it wasn’t a wonder of the world I don’t think.......

LOTTE: You know guys, I'm so glad you're here. I really like being with you here.

IAN: What about King Solomon's Mines?

RESTTORYELL: No that was in Africa.

IAN: Yeh, but wasn't that one of them?

RESTTORYELL: No, but can you name me the country they were in?

IAN: South Africa, Botswana?

LOTTE: Ethiopia? Queen of Sheba country.

RESTTORYELL: Well most people think you're right Lotte, but I know it was Tanzania.

IAN: Never.

LOTTE: I love those African country names. What about Chad. I'd love to see Chad. I wish I could say: I was born in Chad, hey I'm from Chad!

RESTTORYELL: Yeh, but it's pretty dry there, nothing much to do except look for firewood. OK, any more? There is one more wonder of the world in Africa.

LOTTE: Marrakech? OK you guys, (speaking to a bunch of travellers who had left a huge accumulation of bags besides us) we'll keep an eye on your bags for you.

RESTTORYELL: You should charge them for the service.

LOTTE: Are you kidding?

IAN: One of the pyramids?

RESTTORYELL: Oh yes, I'd forgotten the pyramids, yes I think we can count the pyramids.

IAN: Cheops, yes it was the Cheops.

RESTTORYELL: OK, that's number five, but what about another one in Africa? It's in Zimbabwe and nobody knows who built it.

LOTTE: A big temple in Zaire? What's it called?

RESTTORYELL: In ZIMBABWE! The only stone temple in black Africa. It's a mystery who built it, maybe, we don't know, maybe the Carthaginians built it.

LOTTE: They were in Zimbabwe? Where is Zimbabwe you guys?

IAN: Impossible - the Carthaginians? Zimbabwe is 3000 miles south of Carthage.

RESTTORYELL: But have you seen the pictures of it? It's immense and not unlike the prehistoric temples in North Africa.

LOTTE: Why did they build it there? What made them go all that way?

RESTTORYELL: Well the Carthaginians were really weird, they were related to the Phoenicians and they had all those strange gods with names like Baal, Smurg and Kraak, and when they got mashed up by the Romans, they went everywhere, a bit like the lost tribe of Israel. OK, they couldn't stay in the Mediterranean any more so where did they go? They went to Wales, and ...Iceland ...... but one group split off and went across the Sahara, and another group set sail along the west coast of Africa, so they must have gone through the Pillars of Hercules - hey that's right, that's number six: the Pillars of Hercules.

IAN: But the Pillars of Hercules.......


IAN: .... is the name for a perfectly natural rock formation.

RESTTORYELL: No, originally Gibraltar was much closer to Africa, and there was this big natural arch over the top, no sorry, I remember the photo, it was a man-made arch, enormous, through which the ships sailed. And Hercules ........

IAN: Neeaargh.

RESTTORYELL: So you've never heard of the big stone temple of Zimbabwe? It's actually named Zimbabwe. In fact that's what they named the country after. Wish I had a picture to show you. There are some drawings in some nearby caves where you can make out boats, just like the Carthaginian boats, the Phoenician boats.

LOTTE: That's really weird.


LOTTE: What year was that?

IAN: But I would have thought that temple wouldn't be so old as that.

RESTTORYELL: Waal....the Carthaginians taught the Vikings how to sail.

LOTTE: What do you mean the Carthaginians taught the Vikings how to sail, nobody taught the Vikings how to sail.

IAN: Claptrap.

RESTTORYELL: No, really....... there are pictures in Sweden of tall Zulu type warriors in Viking boats, pictures carved on the rocks of Sweden, I have my own photos at home...

LOTTE: How do you know they're not just Swedish people with feathers on their heads?

RESTTORYELL: Well, because Swedes just don't look like that, these guys have great long ears, pierced with bangles on them like the Masai, and big spears, and chins thrust out just like Negro warriors ...........

LOTTE: In Sweden?


LOTTE: Well they could have been drawn a lot later, in around 1200 AD.

RESTTORYELL: No, they were definitely drawn around 1000 BC.

IAN: Wait a minute, the Vikings may have gone down the river systems of Europe, but they never went to Africa.

RESTTORYELL: Yep, not only the river systems of Europe, but also Russia, the Black sea, and the Carthaginians went back with them and taught them how to navigate in the open sea. And who knows.....

IAN: Sure they may have been in the Black Sea.

RESTTORYELL: Well, then they went back because the Carthaginians

definitely went to Scandinavia. And took a bunch of Zulus with them.

LOTTE: But nobody taught the Vikings how to sail.

IAN: No, why should they?

RESTTORYELL: But how did they get to America then? Haven't you heard of the Minnesota Vikings?

LOTTE: What were they doing in the midwest?

RESTTORYELL: Traders, great traders. They were the first real Americans. And the Phoenicians fade out when the Vikings got going. So we only got six...............

IAN: I don’t trust that figure if you’re doing the counting.

RESTTORYELL: (Seeing the other two losing interest.) Aahh, nobody's

into alternative history anymore. It's much more interesting than the real one.

LOTTE: Alternative history, that's classic.

RESTTORYELL: Did you know that the Greek civilisation started in the Orkney islands?

IAN: Yes I have, I've heard that one too and it's also wrong.

RESTTORYELL: The same form of graves, beginning in the Orkneys, reproduced on Malta, North Africa, then later in Greece of the Mycaenean period.

IAN: They were not reproduced on Malta.......nor in North Africa or that's the alternative diffusionist theory....

LOTTE: Ha,ha,ha,ha,ha,heee..... the alternative diffusionist theory. What is the diffusionist theory?

RESTTORYELL: Everything started from Egypt and spread out............

IAN: Everything started from the Fertile Crescent and then spread


RESTTORYELL: Everything started from everywhere.

IAN: Until it finally reached the Orkneys and that was it's last dying gasp.

LOTTE: Wait a minute you guys, where exactly are the Orkneys?

IAN: They are islands north of Scotland.

LOTTE: I've been on Mull - is that anywhere near them?

RESTTORYELL: Well, yes it's quite near them.

IAN: It's nowhere bloody near.......

RESTTORYELL: The thing is they've got temples.......

LOTTE: Who has?


IAN: Yes, everybody's got temples.

LOTTE (Giggling): Well, everybody's got temples.

IAN: Anyhow what they decided was that the temples in Egypt were the biggest.......


LOTTE (To others): See you guys, you're stuff is safe here (and becoming like the walls of Jericho around us).

IAN: Yeah, so they were the first, and they spread right throughout Europe, and you get copies of these temples, but they get worse, the masonry was not quite so good, the design not so it's like spreading out the art through Europe.


IAN: Until the Orkneys. The Orkney islands were the last vestiges........

RESTTORYELL: 3000 BC. Have you actually seen that masonry, those corbelled vaults, you can't get a knife between.....

IAN: And this is based upon....

RESTTORYELL: But have you actually seen them, have you been.....

IAN (Speaking very slowly and scientifically): This is based upon......

LOTTE: What is based on what?

IAN: This is based upon carbon dating which was wrong.....

RESTTORYELL: By about 1000 years - and the wrong way for your argument - even earlier, a thousand years earlier.....

IAN: The carbon dating was corrected by an examination of the tree rings of the white bristle pine......

LOTTE: In California, hey I've been there where....

RESTTORYELL: No, these were in Utah...

IAN: This proved.........

RESTTORYELL: That the Egyptian temples had passed their sell by date....

IAN: This proved that some of.... the.....temples......

RESTTORYELL: Like the Orkneys.

IAN: ..... were older than the pyramids.

RESTTORYELL: Absolutely! So you agree!

LOTTE: Excuse me, excuse me but what's the Orkneys got to do with Californian tree rings?

IAN: Well you can either carbon date them or you can tree ring them....... and by carbon dating you get one date.....

RESTTORYELL & IAN: And by tree ringing them you get another.

LOTTE: Oooohhh.....

IAN: But you actually find out that carbon dating is not a straight line graph but it's got a curve in it the further you go back.......

RESTTORYELL: It's not exactly a curve, it's more like a kink.....

LOTTE: Oooohhh, you guys are incredible, you know about a curve in carbon dating? I've never met two people like you who could talk about a curve in carbon dating.......

IAN: So after the correction they said that OK maybe civilisation started the other way around - in the Orkneys. The man's name was Renfrew. He was biased I think because he was a Scottish Nationalist.

RESTTORYELL: No, no, no, no, they said we could come up with that theory but really it would just be another diffusionist theory, so why don't we just admit spontaneous creativity on behalf of everyone?

LOTTE: Wait a minute, can I say something?

IAN: Well Renfrew's theory was that you get certain anthropological forces......

RESTTORYELL: Anthropological forces - what are they? Hey, I'm a sergeant in the anthropological armed forces!

IAN: People interacting within a community, and when they get to a certain level of interaction....

RESTTORYELL: Spontaneous civilised combustion? By people rubbing together? I never thought of it that way...

IAN: get certain things that'll develop, and that happened in the Orkneys.

RESTTORYELL: Rub two primitive Orkneians together long enough and anything could happen.....

IAN: No, it's a bit more exact than......

RESTTORYELL: Hey, in America, have you seen the pictures of the beautiful Machu Picchu?

LOTTE: Yeh, I really wanna go there. To Peru, so badly, ooohh.

RESTTORYELL: Well the Orkneys are exactly the same, 'cos in the Orkneys they used to have volcanoes, back in 4000BC, so they made them with L-shaped blocks, perfectly fitted together......

LOTTE: They made L-shaped volcanoes?

RESTTORYELL: .....earthquake proof, just like in Machu Picchu. No, building blocks Lotte, building blocks AGAINST volcanic action...

IAN: Well they're similar but.......

LOTTE: Can I say something?

IAN: .......but the stones are not so big.

RESTTORYELL: But the DESIGN..... and execution......

LOTTE (Louder): Can I say something.....(flapping her arms) craaaagh, craaaagggh, craaaaaggggh, you gotta use your arms a lot if you wanna get noticed these days. OK, be quiet, be quiet.

RESTTORYELL: Real Californian style.

LOTTE: No, listen....

RESTTORYELL: Yeah, go ahead, tell the guys something. Give her a chance.

LOTTE: .....I've been waiting to say this for so long but I never seem to get a word in. Don't you think it's rather odd no matter wherever in the world you go, I mean from the Orkneys to Zimbabwe, and Egypt to South America, people always have to build these incredible burial temples. I mean so that everyone back in that time had a completely different perception of death?

RESTTORYELL: No, it's the same one as I have.

LOTTE: Well that's really besides the point. But that everyone thought the same way.

IAN: It's because they feared it.

RESTTORYELL: If they feared it then they would have ignored it man, just like we do today. They don't put temples up to death, it's something beyond death, it's transportation to a different world.

IAN: No they were trying to explain it.....

LOTTE: I mean maybe they had a bigger insight into these things, like the Chinese still, that death was further on, like it's a circular thing, samsara and nirvana.

IAN: No, I think it's a fear of the great unknown, they explained it in ways that they could understand......

LOTTE: It was more like they honoured the dead, but now....

RESTTORYELL: How about the correction theory?

LOTTE: .......yes then it was a great ritual, it was like a great transition, but now when you die it's nothing.

RESTTORYELL: Because now when you die, there's nothing after death, we're just specks of dust.

LOTTE: I know, but why, why has that changed?

IAN: You see this is where Christianity came in and tried to explain the great unknown, that there's really a heaven and a hell, and that you'd be better off......

LOTTE: But then that's still it, that's the short term end.

RESTTORYELL: What do you believe?

LOTTE: We're just dust in the wind.

RESTTORYELL: But won't you get blown somewhere and sprout seeds in the desert?

LOTTE: When you die, you just die, and that's it.

RESTTORYELL: And you believe the same Ian?

IAN: Yeah, I do.

RESTTORYELL: You're all crazy ......

LOTTE: Why, what do you think? Where you gonna go? Oh God!

RESTTORYELL: Look. Don't you remember your previous lives?

IAN: Naaaa.

LOTTE: No, I didn't have any.


LOTTE: What were you, oh god, what were you?

RESTTORYELL: I was an advertising salesman for a Greek Tourist Agency.

LOTTE: You lie, you lie.

RESTTORYELL: I used to sell the ancient Romans tours to Greece.

Then earlier, I was an Orkney island bricklayer.

IAN: Rubbish.

RESTTORYELL: But I also remember my future lives, though that's a little more difficult.

IAN: I've known people who've been to a hypnotist and found out about their previous lives. One was Marie Antoinette, and she was lucky......

RESTTORYELL: Lucky? Unlucky.....she had her head chopped off. She never did remember much after that.

IAN: Everybody seems to have been someone famous in a past life. Now, I ask myself: why?

LOTTE: Maybe it was compensation.

RESTTORYELL: Maybe they deserved it, maybe it was correction. (Forlornly) I wasn't anyone famous.

IAN: Why aren't you ever Mr. Smith who lives in the High Street?

RESTTORYELL: Because Mr. Smith’s life is so boring, there’s nothing to remember about it!

LOTTE: Mind you, there are so many places I've been to and you go walking into a street and I mean you've totally been there before and stuff........

RESTTORYELL: Yes! That's right and now why?

LOTTE: Well it's not because I've lived a previous life.

IAN: No, it's to do with your binocular vision.....

LOTTE: Ha, ha, ha, haaa.....

IAN: Occasionally, yes occasionally the right and the left hand side of the brain don't match, you see something and there can be a fractional delay in sending the message to the other half of the......... brain.......

RESTTORYELL: For some people it never gets there......

IAN: you've seen it before.

RESTTORYELL: Yes, where have I heard this conversation before? On the other side of my brain...........

LOTTE: No, it's what you call Vuja Dê.

RESTTORYELL & IAN: You mean dêja vu?

LOTTE (Laughing): No, I don't, I mean vuja dê......get it?

RESTTORYELL:......but why do you feel so good when you're talking like this?

LOTTE: What's that got to do with previous lives?

IAN: Or dêja vu?

RESTTORYELL: It's got everything to do with it - this conversation has spirit in it, it's touching the stratosphere......

IAN: No, no, it's because the brain loves making connections......

LOTTE: Well it's because you're always thinking of it in a scientific sense, and you're thinking of it in a trip-out, weirdo, mystical sense..... oh god I wish we had some grass on us, we should be smoking here......

RESTTORYELL: Isn't this enough?

Chapter 2Chapter 2

Posted by Graham Thompson Thu, January 21, 2016 12:27:14

The Contact List

Sometime after my partly pointless pilgrimage to the heights of Muswell Hill I was looking down through neon Arabic script outside the window of the Hotel Everest on a very different city. I was headed for (or was it back from?) Nairobi and points further south, determined to take in a few Sphinx and create some riddles of my own. The view below my hotel room was worthy of a Hiram Hilton - a 50 foot replica of Ramases stood down there as if just about to dive into the small pool at his feet. Whizzing past the pharaoh's right ear was an overpass full of Fiat bubbles, Toyota pick ups and ancient flat-bed trucks. The Hotel Everest, as its name might suggest, was probably the tallest hotel in town, with views in the far distance to the beginnings of the desert. I was on the 28th of 54 floors in room 622, but I had the definite feeling that the 23 floors above me were empty of human habitation. In fact it was a very strange feeling, dare I say a uniquely post-modern feeling (I do allow having them now and then), staying in a high rise hotel of 60's provenance, which even more than it's sister buildings of London, Manchester or Aston, was in the last stages of dereliction and desertion. I decided that the hotel policy was to occupy the rooms closest to the 5th floor first (the ones below that were filled by empty offices) where the manager's office and dining rooms were situated. This meant that it was also probably less top heavy in the case of an earthquake or just a plain simple natural disintegration. The hotel was therefore remarkably full, 18 floors full to be exact, although I had only noticed one of the rooms on my floor locked, and the dining rooms appeared to be mysteriously empty most of the time, even at breakfast. Perhaps I just couldn't bare the fact that I was almost alone in this tottering monstrosity and preferred to feel it was more occupied. But my searches on higher floors had only revealed empty and open rooms without even the sight of a cleaner. The compensation was, of course, that I could make as much noise as I wanted to and so I sang and bellowed and recited Shakespeare and Eliot at all hours, and when tired of this, played the stereo ghetto blaster I had bought on a midnight boat from Vlissingen to Sheerness (the adventure of it’s acquisition and almost loss coming soon), which was an intended present for my best contact in northern Tanzania. The weight of those empty floors above me made me sing and dictate louder - oh yes the gist of these adventures of my luggage were always being recorded on my small dictaphone and it is to those recordings, complete with background music of an echoing Room 622 and a drone of Cairo city traffic that I now pin my ears before writing these words. I can hear again my shutters being closed and see the ghetto blaster on the bedside table, the African hold-all peeping from under the bed, the Greek satchel lounging against the metal chair, and my black briefcase with papers scattered over the spare bed.

In fact in the background to that recording, cunningly hidden from the casual listener by my own version of double tracking, I can now hear the recording of an earlier adventure in a Milan hotel room. I remember my frustration when I found that I had missed yet another train connection, which forced me to stay the night in Milan on the way south to Greece. I found a small but far from cheap hotel a couple of blocks from the station. And what a station - I had seen nothing before to match it’s grandiose design and execution - not even in the glories of St. Pancras, Antwerp Central or Frankfurt Hauptbahnhoff. The thing I love about such stations is that it is impossible to lose them, so big are they on the horizon of the city, and such a noble bequest from the public-spirited burghers of the past - a spirit of capitalist generosity which unfortunately is now dead, except in its warped manifestation of offering covert bribes to the coffers of modern political parties. It is the kind of place where you can have the most extraordinary conversations, whilst sitting on the marble reliefs, with fellow passengers destined for other far flung locations on the inter-European network. Of course Italians complain even more than we about the lateness of the trains, but waiting with such a backdrop of glorious heights and distances makes time stand still, and thus the train arrives more quickly than in some lesser shed of a station. I had been confirming with a passing fellow passenger the translation of the timetable for Brindisi and the Adriatic Coast when a decidedly down at mouth customer burst foward and knocked me over onto the immaculately clean marble floor. Surprising me, he offered to haul me up again and in my gratitude for his help I never suspected his true intentions - but unkown to me I was already a wee bit lighter of luggage - as we shall soon see.

The hotel was a short taxi ride away, indeed it was the driver who recommended as being just about within my budget. The room I had taken was also magnificent for its acoustics, and I decided to take full advantage of it by setting up my recording equipment for a layered performance: marble floors, marble fireplace, even the curtains looked as if they were made of marble. The echo was better than the Albert Hall, and I didn’t have to wait for so long for it to come back to me. I was halfway through a re-recording with hidden messages of the well known Dire Straits number "So Far Away": "I'm tired of being in love and being all alone When you're so far away from me. I'm tired of making out on the telephoooone....." when to my synchronistic astonishment the phone by the bed began to emit a curious bleating sound which must have been the Italian for "ring, ring" (though I guess no phones actually make this sound now anywhere in the world, bells are merely electronically simulated and in many countries, particularly Italy, the simulation is a simulation of a simulation etc.). I turned down the volume and picked up the phone, but continued to record. The manager of the hotel said there was someone to see me in the foyer and would I please, please, turn the music down as it was now 2.30 a.m. and complaints had been received by neighbours. I reluctantly switched off my equipment and went downstairs. I swear I had been no longer than 5 minutes but the place was completely vacant, my prospective contact had gone. I went back up to where I thought the manager’s rooms were, and stood there knocking as quietly as I could in the half lit hallway. His bald head protruded from the crack in the door and his sleepy voice protested that no, he had not phoned me, no, no-one had called for me but would I please keep the music down. Then he shut the door as silently as he had opened it.

I would have put this all down to a dream but half an hour later the whole process repeated itself. I was re-recording the "So Far Away" at a lower volume and yet again at the words "on the telephooone...." MY telephone broke in and it was definitely the manager's voice asking me in his broken English to come downstairs as I had a visitor. "Are you SURE?" "Yes, absolutelya sure." "Then I suppose I'd better come." I recorded the following conversation on my tape so I can't have been dreaming.

RESTTORYELL: Are you looking for me?

INTRUDER: If you are Mot Resttoryell.

RESTTORYELL: What do you want of me at this time of night and how did you know I was here.

INTRUDER: I saw you in the station, I was the man who knocked into you when you were explaining your travel problems to that guy with the bigga hat.

RESTTORYELL: And then you followed me here, but what for?

INTRUDER: Yes, I wanted to help you with your ah luggage, but you were too quick for me.

RESTTORYELL: Are you telling me you’re some kind of porter?

INTRUDER: No, no, I’m actually a pick-pocket, though I’m agraduating to be house-breaker in two years. I’ve come to give you back your wallet. I’m sorry, I stole it from you when you fell. But now I’ve seen it’s containments and I’m sorry I just wanted toa read some letters you have in it. As soon as I knew what you were doing I felt I just have to give it back to you. You’ll need every lire you’ve got if you are to ah succeed. Here it is.

RESTTORYELL: I’m flabbergasted, I’ve only ever been robbed once before but on both occasions I have recovered my funds straightaway, extraordinary! The first time the mugger was immediately knocked down by a bus.

INTRUDER: A risk of oura very dangerous occupation.

RESTTORYELL: Well thank for your kind sentiments, I never knew it was missing, I would only have missed it tomorrow when I came to pay the bill. Is there anything I can do for you?

INTRUDER: Well, actually, come to think of it, I could do with my fare home; it’s difficult to live on a student house breaker’s allowance, and my training hasn’t being going ah too well. Or still better, you could help me to a few silver candleholders in your room.

RESTTORYELL: No, no, you can’t do that, they’d bound to suspect both of us, the manager knows we’re up and around, here, take a few thousand lire, that’s all I can afford.

INTRUDER: Yes, I ah understand, I don’t want to get caught yet again, good luck then and I hope you find something to help all those poor buggers. Many of my friends are that way, and their alonliness is even worse than before, especially here in Italy. It must be better in England huh?

RESTTORYELL: I don’t actually live there anymore, so I can’t really comment. Look, you’d better go before the manager becomes suspicious. INTRUDER: Yes, yes, ok, buona sera!

RESTTORYELL: Buona sera al secchio!

After he left I resumed my recordings, glad to be restored to my wallet and its invaluable credit cards (yes! the honesty of the guy astonished me, but could he have the dreaded disease?), and nevertheless a little puzzled and maybe suspicious about what had happened. But I could find nothing missing from the wallet despite a thorough search. Contemplating the letter from Dr. Nabakov, our head of operations, the same one that he must have read, I realised that if the guy was NOT a thief, he could have learned rather too much from that letter. And who else could he have been - Italian Secret Police? Surely they hadn’t already been in contact with the Czechs? No, that was impossible – why would he have returned it? Maybe of course to plant a tracker on me. But I realised I was getting paranoid for nothing and put a halt to these thoughts. It was too late now, and really I had nothing to hide in all my papers. The task was just as it was laid out in the letter. My hidden personal project which the big money also paid for was tucked away in only my head, and even if someone were to listen to my taped interviews with the European contacts they would gather very little, buried as they were beneath the music in a way only I could retrieve. It was, after all, just more distantly related pieces of my medico-anthropological fieldwork. And the contact list had been safely locked in my briefcase: that was the only giveaway that I was busy frying bigger fish on the side.

When I woke that morning in 622 I wrote the following postcard to Rebecca, an ex girlfriend and fellow ethno-medical researcher in Geneva: "Here I am in Cairo, all my relatives have gone home now, so there is no-one left to bury except myself - I left Lord Byron in Bari so the only place to go is up the River Nanananile....." I have it with me again now as I stole it back when I visited her after my return to Europe. The picture on the other side is of the Everest taken from a plane with a desert sunrise (or set) in the distance. The card still smells faintly of Rebecca's musk perfume, though it's strange, I remember sending it to her because I had already smelt the same perfume in the Everest room, and on the pillows. It could not have been my daughter's - it's not her style and in any case she never visited the Everest. So was it my imagination or could it have come from a previous occupant of the room? I rushed downstairs via the lift, which creaked and braked and heaved it's gathering load of Spanish, Lebanese(?), Greek and Egyptian crooks trying to look like business men down the 20 odd floors to the dining room. As usual I was late and they were on the way out - the dining room was almost empty but not quite closed. I put down my Greek bag - a constant companion - as I sat at a table by the window with an uncommonly good view of the flyover just below, and picked up a paper (in Arabic) so as to be able to peep unobtrusively at my neighbour, who was a blond travelleress, dressed as if ready for a four wheel drive across the Sahara to the Siwa oasis to read her fortune. The waiter served grapefruit then a stale crust of bread, which I dispensed to the many cats howling hissing and fighting beneath the table. The only good thing you could say about the Everest breakfasts was that they came free with the room. In other cheaper hotels in Egypt you had to haggle over the price of a breakfast every new morning, otherwise it would double in price by the end of the first week. I wanted to engage in conversation with my neighbour but she, noticing my eagerness, broke out in an American style greeting and abruptly demanded if I could really read Arabic.

"Some" I replied non-committally, "if you don't want your grapefruit do you mind if I have it as I'm starving?"

"No go ahead, I only ever drink coffee in the mornings. Oh by the way I think you have that paper upside down."

"Oh yeah, as a matter of fact are you going somewhere serious?" I asked. "Serious, oh you mean am I travelling a long way? No, I've already been far enough, I'm on my way back to Saluda, South Carolina, leaving tomorrow. Why, where are you going?"

"Well, that's not easy to say, probably south...." Her smoky blue eyes narrowed and her eyebrows seemed to swing like a see-saw. "Towards Aswan you mean?"

"No, a long way over and past Aswan. I'm flying to Nairobi tomorrow if everything works out. Where have you just come from then?" She laughed, a light dry kind of laugh that made you want to slap her back.

"The desert, I really love the desert, I've been living with the Bedouin for three months, can you believe that - I can hardly believe it myself......" Somehow, I could just believe it and I realised I might be able to trust this woman.

"Look" I said, "I'd love to talk to you about your desert experiences, but I have to leave now, I have an urgent appointment and I've got things to buy, but if you have time, why don't we meet again same time tomorrow. What time is your flight?"

"Not until late afternoon, yes I'll be here in the morning, same time?"

"O.K. Nice meeting you, see you....mmm...soon. Oh by the way - what’s your name?"

“Lotte, Lotte Dickinson”

“Mine’s Mot Resttoryell, see you.”

"Don't forget your paper."

Refusing to acknowledge her joke, I rushed out the room and backup to 622. As I ascended I realised I had already forgotten her name, which I regretted even more because the pleasant halo of feelings associated with her image needed a name, a mnemonic for the rest of the day. But the smell of her musk perfume lingered in my nostrils. As always the first thing I did was to check my luggage and all its contents. The ghetto blaster stared at me mutely through its two great insect eyes, so I pressed the play button to listen to more of my journey through Italy. The Guatemalan bag was exactly where I had left it precariously perched (on purpose) on the edge of the bed. My hide hold-all was still under the bed, full only with innocent clothes. The tape bag was slung over the wooden chair bulging with electronic contrivances, wires hanging everywhere. And finally my black briefcase was sitting smugly on the other bed, combination locks remaining at exactly at the numbers I had purposefully left them 180.192, which was that day's date. To these I added my Greek bag, at the same time removing my latest contact list which I had hand written all over again the previous night. Looking at the scribbled names I realised that it would be totally unprofessional to send the list out to the members of the circle without placing it on a headed notepaper in typed form. So first I cut out some black letters and formed the heading SIDALTEL with a stolen "globe" logo from a Danish Metallurgy Conference that I happened to have with me. I stuck them on as a heading then copied it downstairs in the photocopy shop, thus producing a not unpleasing headed notepaper. All I had to do was find a typewriter with which to copy my list onto this new paper, and I at first thought of asking the hotel office if I could use theirs. But maybe it would be better to acquire my own - a second hand portable, perhaps, that I could take on to Kenya and use for my final reports. I had been disappointed in that the sponsors had not allowed me a laptop computer within my meagre budget, but in any case I would have needed one with heavy long lasting batteries for up-country use, as the solar powered ones were not yet available. The weight was a major problem, and indeed even a lightweight portable typewriter would mean yet another item of luggage. As the budget would not allow me to take taxis everywhere, I would face even bigger crises with my possibly seven pieces of luggage at every departure and terminus. At that moment there was yet another synchronic coincidence to my train of thought, because, the tape I was then listening to arrived in Brindisi station and I was treated to the following account of my immense struggles to get out the carriage.

The last station before the terminus was mysteriously called Monopoly, and was it a coincidence that I had been counting the last few remaining Lire in my possession? Then I realised I could not even afford a taxi, let alone to pay for a hotel bed. With what felt like sixteen bags, I watched the train slide to a halt, a neon sign flashed up, it was platform 4, 20.50 on the first Sunday after New Year. As I got down off the train, though I had carefully distributed my load, I had to pay special attention to the balance between the heavy hold-all strapped to my right shoulder, together with the briefcase in my right hand, and the combination of Guatemalan bag and tape recorder on my left shoulder and left hand respectively. Then, coming out of the station I was forced to fend off the usual attention of the taxi drivers parked in the square, who were almost plucking the bags and the boxed ghetto blaster from my failing grip. I struggled across the ill-lit square to a travel office opposite that dealt with the ferries across to Ignoumenitsa and let my arm pieces slide to the floor. I had missed the ferry I was booked on the night before because of the Milan fiasco, so I needed to check if I could get one that night with the same ticket. Yes it was fine to use that same ticket tonight, but would I not like to take a taxi down to the harbour as it was way across town? Imagine my relief when at that very moment in walked a backpacking New Zealander who was also asking the way to the harbour.

After receiving instructions for our route, we set off together and, because he had his hands free, Kiwi Ian kindly offered to carry the big box with the music centre. "Why have you got so many bags?" he asked."I dunno, they just seem to attach themselves to me.""Why don't you put it all in a backpack like me?""It wouldn't all fit in, and in any case I don't like to appear like a traveller." "You mean with this lot you're a traveller in disguise?" "No, I'm a spy disguised as a salesman." "That's not funny when you have to cross so many borders. Why the big recorder?" "It's a present for a friend." "In Greece?" "Maybe, it depends on who is nice to me." "Well I certainly can't use it." Though I did have my suspicions at the customs office when Ian inevitably strolled through much quicker than I and disappeared into the bowels of the boat along with my package. I got through some 15 minutes later after an extensive search of the books and files in the briefcase and the clothes in the hold-all. Of course this time there was nothing for them to find, not in my personal belongings at least. Ian didn't know what he had hold of.

Intro & Chapter 1Intro & Chapter 1

Posted by Graham Thompson Sun, December 07, 2014 19:41:56

Intro: The Bags

A common enough story. One man and his bags. And many missed connections. Do we begin with the bags? Or perhaps with the journey? History as a list of items has a long pedigree: those kings in Sumeria or accounts in Knossos, all good excuses to put pen to paper or chisel to stone. But maybe origins are more important here as it gives us a lever on the itinerary too.

The everyday tale of a man trying to find himself or rather his luggage. But is there such a great difference? After all, the bag expresses and sometimes exposes the man. For a bag can contain not only, say, his outer identity, his clothes , but as in this case, his very life work. And if that ends up at the wrong destination and in the wrong hands - where is left the man?

Was there a beginning to these travels? Many of course: London, Antwerp, Athens, Dar es Salaam, my mother's womb, two Ice cream parlours - the one in Luton, the other in Atbara-on-the-Nile. All were small beginnings in their way, but the history of my most important luggage began in Dar. So we might as well begin there with the first piece of the story and etc. etc. The item of luggage for which our bagman had the deepest attachment began its life on the back of several wild animals of the East African plains. It was a hide leather holdall made in patchwork with two strong handles and a big black zip; the latter was its weakest part, though it was only after 20.000kms. or several years that this made itself manifest. Originally a light tan, it gradually weathered to a gold and shining brown, which at various times attracted cries of admiration from ticket inspectors, boxers, soldiers and air-force personnel (but never sailors), taxi-drivers, sociologists and the tannyboys of the African buses - those who, after throwing your luggage on the roof ran alongside, jumping and dancing on the side-rails before hoisting themselves onto the departing vehicle. The article was purchased one day in 1988 in the rundown market quarter of Kariakoo in Dar es Salaam. I had just emerged from the cool, dusty and slatted-light atmosphere of the old market when I was almost cut down by a white Peugeot taxi, pot-holing its way towards the centre of town. Falling like a Graham Greene hero into the gutter, I hauled myself onto the covered sidewalk and instantly stood amazed before the old Indian bag shop I had last seen (and then subsequently lost) back in '81. So I went right in and bought a replacement for the similar bag, which had fallen apart from the owner somewhere in Sudan, the victim of being thrown down from the back of heavy lorries and generally dragged about the desert for 6 months. This previous item, bought from the same shop, had proved to have a defectively thin bottom and rather weak stitching but it made up for all that in sheer character, so I was determined to buy something similar. In fact, after daring to enter the dusky interiors of the shop past assorted hanging kanga, kitenges, kikois, and kanzu, and then the stentorian and grave silences of the tall Makonde ebony carvings, hustling their black carved beauty in the desultory half light, I finally discovered the said baggage, thrown together with a host of other but lesser immortals. I haggled with the owner of the shop but with the usual lack of effect. I was forced to pay the full price, more than three times what I had paid for my original bag. I consoled myself with the fact that, allowing for inflation, the deal was not so bad. This leather holdall only had one disadvantage: it had no shoulder strap, but it easily made up for this in durability, and in any case, it had only to survive the comparative luxury of European travel, bar a few odd but quite cosseted returns to East Africa. And what did it store? Like all of my bags it soon began to take on a most individual character because of its contents. It showed itself to be most reliable in carrying clothes, mainly because it was the biggest of my luggage artillery. But occasionally, wrapped inside the clothes, it also stored magnificent gifts for friends and family - ebony carvings, ivory trinkets, copper bangles and semi precious stones. Such gifts always remained well-protected inside the voluminous but well stuffed caverns of its interior. And such gifts also sometimes had their inner secrets.

The second item was worn and carried with much greater ambivalence than the first. Let me describe it in detail first and, also, how it came into my possession, then the reader will perceive more clearly the sources of my ambivalence. This 45x32x13cm. black box of absolute rectangular line is known as a briefcase, or sometimes as the falsely diplomatic French term - an attaché case. Inside the hard black leather box was a contrastingly white and soft kid leather lining, a world all to itself, warm and secret and hidden, whose numerous small pockets were a sensuous invitation to explore them. But on the outside it was a dead giveaway - any bearer of such a box just had to be a businessman. But the owner was no businessman. Or rather the business he entered into was of such a nature as to be in serious conflict with the image of the briefcase. Perhaps that's why it was this item of luggage, the guilty black briefcase, that most often became detached from its owner. On the outside were two small combination locks which I synchronized with the date of my own birthday: 290252. However I was later forced to change this to the date of the divorce of my second wife (an even more momentous event) after I realized the code had been broken and the contents examined and some stolen. But more of this later. It came to me without my desiring it - in other words it was a gift. One ostensibly given by grateful former students when, in early 1991, I vacated a lecturing post , which over the previous three years had become the funeral and long wake on my creativity. The bag was actually chosen by my immediate college superior, who was only superior in the degree of her idiocy and toadyism to the higher authorities. She had been the willing tool in the dismemberment of her own department, in the name of streamlining, downsizing, cost-effectiveness or whatever other metaphors administrators and politicians dreamt up at that time for getting rid of people they didn't like and effectively reducing the quality of the teaching. I left before they could find a reason to fire me, which was most unfortunate for the department, as I was the only one who knew how to work a computer and they had previously fired all the secretaries. However despite my obvious ambivalence to the thing, the briefcase became somehow inextricably attached to me, returning like the proverbial yo-yo, even when I thought it had gone for good, and so afterwards I gradually became reluctantly attached to it. And what did it contain? Mainly my work, my records, index cards held together by numerous rubber bands, other people's business cards, letters, tapes, small cameras, films, pencils, pens and condoms etc. This meant that it was always too heavy and because it had to be hand-held was continuously moved from one arm to the other. It was always being dropped and so it amassed a number of distinctive dents and scars which we will come to later.

The third item of luggage sprang out of the anonymous arteries of electro-consumer land, which as any Londoner knows, is situated at the southern end of Tottenham Court Road. The only coincidence that this item of luggage had with the others was that it too was bought in a shop run by Indians, who now seem to control not only the ex-empire's baggage stores but the distribution and sale of its electrical goods. It had a purely functional and largely anonymous character: black in colour, plastic in material, with a nylon shoulder strap. It was bought one early November from one of a number of equally similar stores, which sold everything electrical, from the impotent jack plug up to the biggest wall-to-wall screen TV. Small and with numerous side-pockets, this bag had one function only: to store the numerous tapes and small tape recorders, microphones etc. required for the recording of a transient's history. This too, like its much handsomer and bigger brother, was the replacement for one of an identical character, that was lost during our story.

The origin of the fourth item of luggage was much more exotic. Our lone traveller was foraging the backstreets of a 1991 Antwerp shortly before another African trip when he came across a small clothing store specializing in South American goods. Inside was a labyrinth of wooden stairs and platformed levels, probably designed to look like an Amerindian house, on the very top of which I found a pile of the latest consignment of bags from Guatemala. Made in a Hessian-like material, this was a simple rucksack with black cloth shoulder straps, which could also be pulled tight around the neck of the bag to ensure the safe-keeping of its contents. The Hessian was woven from beautiful strands of striped and checked colours, mostly blue and black, but also with flecks of yellow and green and numerous red chevrons - one of my favourite motifs. Back in the days when I was a sedentary consultant I had toyed with the idea of calling my agency 'Red Chevvy', and had only been put off by the chrome connotations. The light rucksack was a late starter in this story, but it served it's owner well for a further 20,000Km. of his travels and is still, miraculously, in my possession. It frequently contained clothes of the kind that needed no special attention: sweaters and underwear etc, but it was also useful for things of immediate use such as toiletries, a small medical kit and my lunchbox.

The last piece of moveable luggage worthy of mention was born to me in a small Greek gift shop under the Acropolis in January of ‘91. It was the kind of shop that did everything for the discerning tourist and had a humdinger of a line in leather bags. This beautiful item, originally of a light honey-coloured shiny cow's leather, weathering slowly to a darker tan than even the African safari bag, was actually close in resemblance to a satchel of the 50's or early 60's - it is probably the reason why it so attracted the author. However, it was an extremely large satchel that could and did swallow as many as ten or eleven books at a time, as well the occasional file in current use. It was a very functional bag, as it also had two side pockets (for apples, trinkets, medicines, small knives and other boy scout accessories) and a larger front pocket on which there was a buckle for the main flap (this contained most often pens, diaries, address books, and the odd local map). Unfortunately, this buckle was the only deficiency in an otherwise perfect design. It was not weak and it did not lead to failure, but the weight it was forced to bear when hand-held pulled the leather below it into an ugly fold when it was at rest. The sturdy hand strap sat on the flap cover and was a useful addition despite its connection to this minor injury. The immensely strong and broad shoulder strap emanated from metal rings attached to each side, and through this adjustable belt there passed an additional piece of flat leather, also adjustable, to cushion the impact on the wearer's shoulder. Extremely strong and well made, it was finished in thick hand stitched cord that only once needed repairing in it's long and continuing life. The bag replaced a much smaller imitation red leather one which had been with me from the beginning of my first researches in Africa, but which decided to fall apart on its last journey through Greece. So, though we did not begin our travels together, we did indeed complete them, and this item is still with me as I make my much more minor excursions around and about the city of my final destination. These were the forlorn, and sometimes lost heroes of this story.

I will spare you a detailed description of the tired and ever more exhausted body that carried these bags. Sufficient to remark that I was a cross-breed of English father and Welsh mother, inheriting the dark locks of my mother and her small build, but the blue eyes and restless character of my father. The Resttoryells were a gypsy breed, the Thomases not at all. My father was descended from Roumanian gitanes who had made their way across the continent to England sometime in the late 18th century. They were dissolute drunkards who had only been saved from their sins by conversion to Weslayan methodism. My grandfather had been an itinerant preacher and my father an itinerant insurance salesman. What hope for me then except to widen the scope and horizons of the family travels? Mother, by contrast, was the daughter of a Merthyr miner, and had spent the first settled years of her life in the same valley; until she met my father, and then she had shared some twenty different homes before I was late born in her 45th year. She had not known she was pregnant, but was suddenly taken ill on a long journey to Scotland that my father had insisted on taking just to celebrate New Year. I was born in a hurry, one month premature, in a snowstorm, at a small doctor’s surgery in the small village of Catterick just off the A1 Great North Road. At least this was the story told to me by my parents, but I suspect I was born in the back seat of my father’s Ford Prefect as I still go into ecstasy when I smell the leather seats in old cars. Despite the surprise and inconvenience of my arrival, my father insisted on continuing the journey to Edinburgh for a double celebration, even though my mother was terrified of the Scots and having no friends or relations to help her in those first few months. It turned out father was actually on a recce mission and two months later he took the three of us to Falkirk, assuring my mother that the Scots were seriously under-insured compared to the Welsh or English. But it was only the first in a whole series of home changes which I had to endure throughout my childhood and youth, with the result that I attended no less than nine different schools, and we didn’t return to Wales until my mother insisted on it at her retirement. Then at last I managed to attend one Grammar school for three whole years and subsequently succeeded in passing my A levels and reaching university to study the only subject I was ever interested in: botany. My love for this subject had been developed by my lack of comradeship as a child (I was always the newcomer who never stayed long enough to find friends), for which I compensated by taking long walks out into the countryside and observing every detail of my surroundings. But perhaps it was also the order and discipline of the subject that attracted me, being in total contrast to my own always temporary and disjointed life. But we must not retrograde into irrelevant pasts, it’s time to commence with our intricate and labyrinthine tale, it’s enough to provide you now with this sketch of my history, so as to explain in part at least the longing for new destinations that drove me and my baggage through to the end of this travella.

You have to imagine the weary traveller at different points of time in the early 1990's stumbling down the steps of a German train with the Greek satchel over one shoulder, the black cassette case on the other, the briefcase in the right hand, the African bag in the other (but often swapped back and forth to even the strain) and finally the Guatemalan knapsack on his back. The stumbling went on from train to taxi, taxi to hotel, hotel to tram, tram to apartment, apartment to bus, bus to airport lounge, and so on, not only of course in Germany, but in a total of nine European and three African countries in the space of less than one year. As a result the shoulders inevitably began to droop, the spine buckle forwards, and the head became more bullish in its approach to the future and life in general.

Chapter 1
The First Cassette Case

One night, late in November 1991, I was headed for Blackfriars station, London, on the last train from Dover, having arrived from the continent by ferry. It was a filthy night, the cliffs of Dover looked like the TB sheets from an ancient Brando movie. The illuminated orange world of the container dockyard and the consumer hell of the bright plastic entry terminal gave me no sense of welcome back to my native land. My progress that night had been very unpromising. On finally escaping customs, I had almost missed the bus from Dover Eastern docks to the station. Once in the station I learnt that the only remaining train would enter Blackfriars at 11.30 pm, probably too late to get the underground up to my destination in north London. Then to confirm my doubts the train was seriously delayed outside London. The only compensation was that I had managed to hold on to every single one of my four bags, and this was particularly important as the attaché case contained important documents which might help initiate an educational project in Israel, run by the man due to meet me that night. The black cassette box also contained tapes which I wished to distribute through my Jewish friend to the British members of the organisation I was trying to set up in Europe. They were recordings of the meetings I had had with our European counterparts. As I sat waiting and becoming more anxious about the lateness of the hour I distracted myself by engaging in a conversation with the young woman opposite me, a recent graduate in Comparative European Literature, who informed me that she had no chance of ever using her degree to get a job. We began a rather flippant debate about the serious lack of direction in English Literature, and then went on to discuss the relative merits of our German heroes, hers Brecht, mine Grass. The conversation entered the narrow straights of post-modernism as we slowly slid into the outer suburbs of south east London. At Dartford we were mulling over Baudrillardian ideas of literature (and life) as performance when we gradually noticed that the train had not moved for more than 20 minutes. Outside the darkworld was covered by drizzling and pealing boredom, and inside, it was probably only the increasing cold in the carriage which awoke us to the fact that the real world had stopped. It was already 11.30 pm, a Sunday night, and for the first time we both began to voice the feeling that perhaps we might not reach our respective destinations before bedtime. The voice from the platform speakers then began to muffledly penetrate our windows and hoping to hear something of consequence we stepped out into the murk. Through the banks of mist we heard, or thought we heard, the sound of a siren – surely we were nowhere near the sea? The posters on the wall of the station all appeared to be in heavy ancient characters which spelt out a language either English or German or yet some strange combination of the both. We wandered up and down until a semi-stifled voice emanated out of the mist, and this too was in a familiar but strangely foreign accent, which could barely be understood. Or was it just the effect of the thickened atmosphere? We moved right under the station speaker only to hear now the clear instruction that this train, due to some unpronounceable reason, could no longer enter Blackfriars, but would instead disembark at Charing Cross. This suited me admirably, but I saw the face of my companion visibly drop: someone was waiting at Blackfriars for her, she had very little money and he was the only means by which she could reach her journey's end. She reluctantly decided to stay on the platform in the faint hope of catching the next (if there was a next) train to Blackfriars. As I stepped back on the train there was another apology for the delay, and then the sudden and startling announcement that, after all, this train was destined for Blackfriars. But before my friend could move, the train decided to lurch into life and make a sudden departure from sodden Deptford. I shall never forget the face of that poor girl through the rain-smeared window of the train as we drew away towards her rightful destination. A queer mixture of horror, fear and fatalistic amusement. The kind of look that more and more often crosses the features of the survivors of our sad lost empire of transportation.

"So where is this train going to bud?" asked the American who sat across the gangway from me. I looked from his large frame to the very serious looking Samsonite cases that packed the gangway, and then across to his even bulkier companion before answering: "It looks like it's Blackfriars after all, but no-one can be sure." I decided it was definitely not my responsibility to apologise for my country's travel arrangements, despite the fact that a good deal of grumbling then resumed, based on the argument that they too had been told the train was destined for Charing Cross. Was this Blackfriars place very far from Baker St, and if not, was it safe to get a cab? - the questions began to fly around the carriage and I did my tired best to answer them.

20 minutes later we all stumbled off the train at Blackfriars, hauling our innumerable bags (I chose to ignore the Americans' complaint about lack of baggage trolleys though I knew that their disappearance had probably more to do with hooligans throwing them in the River Thames than inefficiency or lack of funding on the part of British Rail, but I could have been wrong) along the half-darkened platform towards the labyrinth of exit tunnels. We merely noted metaphysically the non-existence of the city's underground transport by means of a nod towards the padlocked metal grille which barred its entrance. Once outside we squeezed ourselves into the first of a long line of taxis in a silence redolent of a lost and defeated platoon, the sky of hopes somewhere above us, cut by the floodlit beams around St. Paul's. Grateful for the help I had given them, the Americans insisted they would pay for the cab when I got down in Trafalgar Square, which was just as well as I still hadn't changed my Belgian money.

Luckily I had a cash card that fitted in a hole-in-the-wall machine, though it wasn't until the third bank on the far side of the square that I found one that actually worked. Picture the poor pilgrim with his four heavy bags waiting patiently at each little red man, crossing and recrossing the zebras of the enormous square until monetary relief came out of the wall with that sweet little electronic bleating and the smile of "thank you - please take your money - goodbye" on the screen. The humans I met up with at the bus stop, and most of all the driver of the bus, were not nearly so accommodating. "You have to have the exact fare mate" which of course was not the ten pound note I proffered him. I and my bags were forced to retreat, back to the non-shelter of the bus stop. And yes, no-one could change a ten pound note in the queue for the next bus. Another sortie around the square and I found an all night drinks and tobacco shop. I don't smoke but I bought 20 Marlboro for my friend. Ah yes, my friend C. (I refuse to divulge his name for his own protection), had he given up on me and gone to bed? So I phoned him and he was still awake, still optimistically expecting my arrival. "Take a Taxi" he said, but I demurred on account of the cost, the organisation wouldn't wear it. "I'll be there in half an hour on the N26 nite bus, OK?" He didn't know the nite buses but it sounded alright to him.

By the time the bus arrived it was gone half past midnight andit was so full of people I had to fight my way to the space under the stairs were I could deposit some of my luggage. I placed the big holdall, my Guatemalan bag and the small plastic tape carrier in the dank hole and then stood guard as the bus slowly made its way through the west end towards Marble Arch, still cluthching my attaché case. Then it did something terrible: it turned left where I expected it to go straight on. We were headed in a direction some way parallel from the one I knew to be correct. Either my memory of the number the bus was defective or the routes had changed. With an exhausted sigh I sat down on the first available seat and strained to recognise the neighbourhoods through the window, paying no more attention to my stored luggage. The rain streaked the view onto a dark wasteland of constant terraces, factories and railway bridges. Tiredness crept through my sagging frame as I sank forward to rest my chin on the briefcase on my lap. The enemy of vigilance - sleep - was getting the better of me. But an imaginairy map was passing before my half-closed eyes, and on this map a moving pinprick of light suddenly illuminated a place at right angles to the marked destination. At this point, somewhere in Cricklewood, I fought my way out of sleep, dragged the remaining bags from their hole and almost fell from the bus onto the still wet street. Picking myself, and then
them, up, I strode through the bleary night to look for a phone. This was a very run down area, looking two cigarette papers thin to the side of dangerous, particularly because there was no-one about. After walking some time I found an all-night shop and asked for the nearest phone. It was round the corner and over the bridge, another 100 meters on my long and weighty journey. It was gone 1.00 o'clock and there was somebody in the phone I patiently waited, guarding my luggage.
I could easily overhear the conversation: the crewcut youth in a uniform of bomber jacket and trainers was demanding from someone to be let back into his/their flat. The demanding soon turned to wheedling and then pleading, so I realised that it must be a female at the other end of the line. He came out after another ten minutes of shuffling around the phone box to avoid my stares, then disappeared huffily into the darkness. I crammed myself in the square meter of space with all my bags (or so I thought), fearing to leave even a single one unattended in that neighbourhood. The net result was that I could barely move my elbows enough to dial the number. I explained to my friend my mistake with the bus and then went on to try and describe where I thought I was, which was rather difficult because in my anxiousness to find a phone I hadn't even taken note of any of the street names. I begged C. to come and pick me up as there wasn't a taxi in sight, and craned my head out of the door to try and see a pub name, a street name, anything. But it was too dark. At that moment the long lost lover boy came back, so I asked him where we were but he could only be accurate to within the term "Cricklewood". Then I remembered the name of the all nite shop and the fact that I had walked over a railway bridge, which information I quickly supplied. "Sounds familiar" retorted my friend, "it's only about ten minutes away from here, be with you soon."

I burst out of the booth, mumbling pointless apologies to the brusheaded kid, who looked, by now, pretty desperate for something he knew he had already kissed goodbye. I turned and pulled out my bags and set off back across the bridge to stand on the corner by the nite shop. Standing there, trying to strain my eyes in every direction at once and, simultaneously, to
remember the look of my friend's car, I began to feel a kind of lightness of being which unfortunately had little connection to that described by Milan Kundera: there was definitely a bag missing! It was the lightest bag, the one least likely to be missed, but the black plastic cassette case was definitely
A.W.O.L. First and most obvious conclusion: it was still in the phone
booth. Or was it: by now my crewcut friend had probably found it and gone on his way, and that way would certainly not to be looking for me. I moved hurriedly back across the bridge, my eyes hurriedly shifting from one bag to another, as if that somehow would make the missing one reappear. But could I also be certain that I had had the bag when I left the bus? Not one image, not a single picture of the bag attached to me, nor placed anywhere, could I conjure for the time after I had left the bus.

The door of the red telephone box hung open, revealing only a dangling phone, still gently swinging, but sign of my case was there none. I strode back across the bridge with a feeling that half the point of this crazy journey through the night had now been wiped out. No more tapes for distribution via my friend, our number one contact man in the UK. The recordings of my meetings were luckily also stored on a master in Antwerp, but they would be too much at risk if sent via the post, so yet another journey across the channel would have to be made. Of course there was still no sign of C. when I got back to the shop on the corner, and by now it was more than 30 minutes since I had phoned him. And then a bus came towards me in the distance, an N26, my N26 on its way back to central London: yes, the driver with the same moustache, the same miserably long face. I dropped my bags and rushed down the road, hoping to intercept it at the bus stop beyond the shops. I turned and threw my arms up some 30 meters from the stop, desperate to find if my little black case and my tapes were still on board. But the empty double decker was travelling to a point way past me, a fact clearly indicated by the stare of the heedless driver that stretched only into the distant night: it went by serenely like a ghost liner on a calm sea, its brightly lit windows revealing a moment of cavalier, almost fairground brightness, accompanied by a strange and suddenly vanishing music, which I thought I recognised as being the latest Dire Straights' album, the very same one I had recently bought on cassette in a Prague street market. And that same cassette had been in the missing black case. Although there remained a slight doubt in my mind as to the fact or fiction of that music, nevertheless I was suddenly convinced I had not stepped down from the bus with all my luggage. A phone-call to the Lost Luggage section of London Transport the next day might still secure the recovery of the tapes, if the driver were an honest man.There was nothing for it but to go back over the bridge yet again and rephone my friend.

The time was now gone 2.00 am and I had been up since 6.30 am the morning before, so I was all in. I hauled my three bags once more to the phone and was relieved to find it vacant. C.'s mother answered my call and told me he was still out there somewhere looking for me. I was almost struck dumb by this persistence. This time I had at least the sense to collect a few street names en route to the phone, which I relayed to her slowly. She recognised them and promised to instruct C. when he returned. I apologised for being so late, for getting the wrong bus, for losing my own location, and even for losing my bag, but she merely laughed and said "it happens". But for me nothing just happens – there were reasons why my arrival at C.s house had been thwarted – and I don’t mean just the inefficiencies of British Rail, nor the sudden deviations of a regular nitebus from its alloted route, not even my own tiredness and lack of awareness which had led to the loss of such a precious article. No I am firmly convinced that not only the particular material circumstances had made my passage to C;’s door difficult but also there were spritual forces which had been directly set against the fulfilling of my mission – not only on this particular night, but as we shall see, on all the journeys necessary for the achievement of my final goal.

Thirty minutes later C. came by in his little white Vauxhall. I fell into his arms and he bundled me and the luggage back into the car. He had been past here exactly one hour before, but of course I was elsewhere, chasing buses or walking my bags. His only comment was "there were more railway bridges in Cricklewood than I had imagined." He'd finally given up and gone home only to find his mother had the exact location. He was still laughing about it as we entered the house. We crept into his study were he had put up a bed for me on the floor, but by this time I had completely woken up again and wanted to begin discussing the loss of the tapes. I was warned to keep my voice down as mother was sleeping in the next room. As he whispered this to me I suddenly realised two amazing differences since the last time I was in this house with him. He was now dressed as a strict Rabbinical Jew whereas at our last meeting he had been in Islamic robes and hat There was the beginnings of a small lock of curled dark brown hair peeping out below his black skullcap, but fearing a long religious argument I refrained from comment. Secondly, on one side of the study there was a bank of the most astonishing collection of the latest high tech information equipment, whose function I could not even guess at. On the screen of one of the computer systems there was a great deal of information regarding educational institutions both in the UK and in the US which appeared to be changing constantly all by itself. As if in answer to my unvoiced question C. explained that he was now hooked up to the Internet and this information was being sent downloaded from the States. It was being automatically stored in the computer's memory and he could read it the next day. As I had not even heard of the Internet at that point in time I was truly astonished, not only at the communicative possibilities of such technologies, but also at the fact that C.'s fortunes must have changed rapidly for the better since I had last seen him. The cost of such sophisticated technology must have been enormous.

The sight of all that information speeding itself across the screen reminded me of my own business and the information I needed to share with him. We had a low whispering discussion about the work in Europe and if the tapes could possibly be retrieved. He reminded me that the next day was a Sunday and the London Transport offices would be closed, but he promised to go himself on Monday and to phone me in my home town in Wales if they were found. I had to leave the next day for that destination as I quickly needed to organise the money for the next African trip with my sponsors. I then took out of my satchel two files, the first called DOVES, the second SIDALTEL, all the time conscious of the flashing of the computer screen to the side of me. The Doves file contained all the papers C. had previously given me on the educational project in Israel plus some new material on similar projects in Scandinavia and Germany which I had come across on my recent travels. He put them in a tray to read the next day. Then I opened the SIDALTEL file and took out the European contact list which I had already prepared a first draft of. I asked if he could make phone contact with the UK members on the list and he said he agreed to make sure that they were brought up to date with my activities and kept in a state of readiness for my return from Afica with our saviour. He took hold of the list and began to laugh. When I looked from my list to the beautiful laser printed documents in his out-tray I began to appreciate the source of his mirth. "What the hell kind of machine did you type this with, or was it done by ancient Greek scribes?" At that moment the darting letters on his computer screen disappeared into total blankness and he went over and switched everything off.

Outside the light was gradually penetrating the heavy curtains of the study and in the hollow of a momentary silence I heard the plaintive and persistent song of a nightingale. The appearance of this guardian angel no longer astonished me at such moments. Many times before in my life had she sung when I faced great loss and despair. As we stared at one another in the early morning gloom I began listen to my friend’s story of the DOVES project with which he was as preoccupied as my own efforts for SIDALTEL We were fellow workers in the creation of a new dawn, which hopefully would not turn into yet another false one.