There are few things more alarming to wake up to than a cockerel loudly crowing at 5am.
One of them, I’ve discovered, is an irate Irishwoman bellowing “that feckin’ cock” from across the pillow.
I’ve managed to zone out next door’s answer to Foghorn Leghorn but, sadly for us all, the One With The Common Sense is finding it more of a struggle.
While the cock-a-doodle-doing is a sporadic melody in the soundtrack of our life in Freetown, the rainy season has brought a more repetitive riff in the form of a colony of frogs that have taken up residence nearby.
Their singing, in unison (and presumably from atop a speckled log), forms anoisy and pulsating rhythmn which rises and falls like some mighty industrial engine.
This impressive song certainly makes a change from the dog chorus that pipes up several times a night when the locals hounds tear chunks out of each other for several minutes at a time.
I originally thought these scabby mutts that snooze all day were street dogs but it seems most are kept by humans, presumably as guard dogs. You occasionally see hawkers flogging tiny unfortunate puppies to passing drivers.
The attitude to animals here can be summed up by colleagues enjoying a laugh at The One With The Common Sense’s expense over the way Europeans treat dogs. The thought of feeding them choice cuts from tins and giving them beds reduced them to tears of hilarity.
She explained how there were laws against abusing animals, only to be told: “We haven’t even sorted out laws over abusing people yet.”
Thankfully, the odd snake aside, Sierra Leone doesn’t seem to have so many deadly creatures as you might expect. Nonetheless, it’s been an unfortunate week or so when it comes to our contact with the animal world.
A blood-curdling shreik from The One With The Common Sense had me cantering up the stairs, fearing some accident had befallen the Flump, only to find the commotion caused by a sizeable cockroach advancing towards the bedroom.
It had been the wife’s dramatics that had the Flump in tears, rather than the alien invader which I quickly dispatched with insect spray.
A few days earlier, the One With The Common Sense had been less keen on my over-enthusiasm with said spray when tackling a colony of flying ants that had invaded the back room.
The incident ended not just with a huge pile of dead ants – and one unfortunate gecko who got caught in the crossfire – but with the wife and Flump in coughing fits.
Meanwhile, the mosquito net over our bed began serving to keep the little bleeders in, and well fed, rather than out.
I got bitten so much one night that I spent early hours armed with the trusty spray and a tube of hydrocortisone cream. Even then, I woke to find two sitting, bloated and content, on the inside of the net.
The One With The Common Sense had been working away that night and, typically, it coincided with our first entire day without government power.
Add to that a generator with an oil leak and it made for one hot, sweaty and itchy night – the first of many in a week plagued by power cuts and water shortages (as detailed by Sierra Leone’s finest newspaper review*).
Given that we generally have power throughout most weekends, we’d hoped that things would be better by the time we hosted friends on Saturday teatime.
We kept the faith despite a lack of juice throughout the morning’s spring clean, and hope remained even after I’d sweated over a stove-top curry and bought ice as an emergency beer chiller.
Sadly, our faith was misplaced. The evening ended with a candlelit dessert, while our guests gamely carried on post-prandial chat under the glare of headtorches.
It was left to their daughter, four, to provide a voice of reason by announcing: “It’s really getting too dark to see properly now.”
Light finally returned about an hour after our guests had left and, giddy on power, we plugged in all our appliances at once and set up a disco in the front room.
We worked through most of a crate of beer, supplemented by £4-a-bottle gin and tea (obviously). Things got about as out-of-hand as they can within baby monitor-range and, although memories are hazy, there was definitely singing and dancing.
A scene of carnage greeted us in the morning; Duplo everywhere.
With the One With The Common Sense away with work more often recently, it’s been left to Daddy to feed, clothe and entertain the Flump.
I feel like an old hand at most of that now. However, there’s definitely been an interesting change in family dynamics.
The Flump is over the infuriating habit of reacting to Daddy’s shouts or “ah, ah” warnings with hilarity. Instead, she either steps away from whichever highly dangerous item she was about to shove in her mouth (very satisfying) or simply bursts into tears (aah, the power; ooh, the guilt).
She gets her own back by constantly calling for Mummy, then immediately snubbing the One With The Common Sense on her return from work by running into the arms of whichever of our watchmen is on duty.
Football with the ever-patient Ibrahim and Abdullah has become a nightly affair.
While I might be up for the fight with a manipulative and tantrum-prone toddler, I simply don’t have the tools to battle her unruly hair.
There’s no doubting that the tears are genuine as Daddy ham-fistedly yanks at her locks while trying to double-loop a lazzy band over the top.
Meanwhile, with a half-marathon looming, I decided it was High Noon for my own sweaty and scruffy Barnet at the nearest “barbing saloon”.
I was tempted by the offer of “any kinds of drinks” at the Beauty Parlour and Bar opposite, but plumped for the more manly-sounding Magic Barbing Shop.
Magic, it turns out, is the owner’s name. He wasn’t around so instead it was left to his Number Two, Francis, to explain that without power he couldn’t use the clippers.
However, egged on by an entourage sitting outside, he offered to do it the old-fashioned way.
Having never used a local barber before, and assuming they only ever dealt with African hair, I was already braced for coming out looking like a US Marine recruit.
So there was minimal wincing when he combed a razorblade freestyle through my hair and I sat, intrigued, to see what the results would be.
It wasn’t a million miles from a barbershop experience at home: cheap decor, display of odd and outmoded styles (here, solely feauturing Craig David lookalikes), banter about the football etc.
However, I did look away from the mirror when at one point it seemed to be one of the Inspiral Carpets staring back.
In the end I was pleasantly surprised at how normal I looked. What’s more he only asked for the local rate of 5,000 Leones (60p) – I gave him double, given this was no ordinary assignment.
If anything, I wouldn’t have minded a more extreme cut. Maybe next time.
STOP PRESS to Sierra Leone’s (*only) paper review:
Reports this week have pointed out that the drivers of Freetown’s Okada motorcycle-taxis have been further angered by the ban on riding within the capital’s Central Business District (CBD).
It transpires that in order to use their vehicles, they must first licence them at a location WITHIN the CBD. One motorcylcist – facing a choice between a fine for being unlicensed or an alternative for riding within the no-go zone – apparently resorted to pushing his bike there on ndcart.