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.
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 booth......so 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.