We’re fairly well accustomed to sleeping through seriously noisy nights, with rain hammering on our corrugated metal roof.
And we had plenty of thunder crackling around at the start of the rainy season.
But at 4.30am on Monday, a noise like no other made me shoot bolt upright.
A deafening noise rumbled apocalyptically around Freetown’s mountainous borders, echoing around the compass points like it’d never end.
“That felt like it shook the house,” I (apparently) mumbled to The One With The Common Sense, when the din eventually died down.
Sleep soon overcame me, however, and I gave only a passing thought to the prospect of our water tank toppling and crashing through our bedroom. (A fear I take seriously enough to have moved the Flump’s cot to the other side of the room.)Later that day, however, I read reports that a 7.1 magnitude earthquake had struck some 1,072 miles southwest – somewhere north of the Ascension Islands – but close enough to have been felt in Freetown.
Historically, little more than tremors seem to have been felt in Sierra Leone but it did give rise to a warning to stay away from beaches for a couple of days. With mind to the awful consequences of the recent Italian quake, it also prompted a conversation about where we might take shelter, should an earthquake really shake the foundations.
The One With the Common Sense informs me that the safest place is under the dining room table. However, I barely trust its strength to hold throughout a family dinner, so I’ll take my chances in the downstairs loo. At least there’d be running water.
Whether our marital bed was sent a-quiver by a tremor or an almighty thunderclap, we’re still not certain. However, you can be sure that – during a week of such prodigious rain – only an Englishman could manage to suffer terrible sunburn.
I had slopped on the suncream before heading out for my Sunday run, but I didn’t realise I was going to be out for five hours when I stepped through the door.This hideous twist on a farmer’s tan was the result of an unfortunate series of events triggered by our congratulating ourselves on coping with our first week back without meltdown, despite the mouldy mess that greeted our return and a lack of nursery provision.
We ought to have known better.
Within 24 hours of raising Star beers to our success, I was back in crisis mode when the car – apparently devoid of engine coolant – began to overheat, and the dashboard lit up with warning indicators like a Christmas tree.
Being a Saturday evening, the repair shops were about to shut for the week and – after walking around a few stores failing to determine which coolant would avoid some sort of hideous chemical reaction in the engine – I resigned myself to being without wheels until Monday.
Worse, I’d arranged to visit the Everton Sierra Leone project being set up by my friend Amjata, of home-made kit fame, before hitting the beach. Dragging the family there – and then on down the coast – by public transport was never going to work.
So, it was decided that The One With Common Sense would take a lift to the beach with a friend and that I’d head alone to the football.As a way of getting an extra hour or two in bed, I decided to run there. It wasn’t as far as I’d realised – just under four miles – and so meant leaving quite late.
But I wasn’t unduly worried about overheating, given the overcast skies, and made it down in good time to catch up with Amjata about the progress of his project, which aims to unite the community and promote education through a shared love of football.
He’s signed up a coaching team who’ve tried out more than 70 players over the past month or so, eventually settling on a squad of 33 adults and 10 youngsters. And those who weren’t studying for exams were assembled at the practice field outside the Siaka Stevens Stadium – home of the Leone Stars national team.
It’s a long way from Goodison Park, in more ways than one.
Where Archibald Leitch’s stands tower over the turf in L4, here there are a few corrugated metal sun shelters, some rickety wooden benches and the Pope John Paul II Parochial Centre at the equivalent of the Park End.
Never mind the lack of goal nets, there’s hardly any grass on the rain-puddled field. And a small concrete kerb sunk into the mud offers the only indication of where a touchline might be.
But then perhaps it’s not a million miles from the original Everton’s roots, when the Sunday school lads from St Domingo’s Methodist Church kicked a ball around Stanley Park.
It’d be great to think that in 138 years’ time, players at Everton Sierra Leone would be performing in a modern stadium (more modern than the Old Lady, you’d hope) and earning good money in their own country.
For the time being, just playing is enough. Some make do without proper boots.
But, as I sat on the bench waiting to come on as a second-half substitute for their community XI opponents, it struck me that this bunch of lads probably aren’t all that different to their millionaire counterparts.
The banter, mickey-taking and rows over tactics were just the same as those from my playing days, reminding me just what I’ve missed since injury cut short my thoroughly unremarkable local league career.
And I suspect they’re mirrored in dressing rooms around the world, regardless of how well-paid the stars are.
At Amjata’s invitation, I was eventually thrown on in right-midfield, where I made my usual mistake of trying to play with the limitless energy and desire of my teenage self. It had been 12 years since I’d been involved in an 11-a-side match and – unused to covering the expanse I once did – I was soon heaving for breath.
During a 10-minute cameo, I covered a fair bit of turf and managed to kick the ball in the right general direction at least three or four times before, exhausted, I substituted myself. But not before I’d had what might have been a glorious 20-yard finish charged down while goalbound.
However, the experience was marred by my coming a poor second in a 50-50 challenge (that never would have happened back in the day) and doing one of those embarrassing shanks while trying to hoof clear from the edge of the penalty area. But no-one seemed to mind.
Anyway, even world-class centre-halves do at least one of those a season, right?
Meanwhile, poor Amjata suffered an attack of the John Stones and was dispossessed inside his own penalty area, gifting a goal to the opposition.
Looking on the bright side, if he keeps up that form, it might convince Pep Guardiola to part with £50m of Arab cash to take him to the Man City.
Everton Sierra Leone eventually ran out 4-1 winners, topping St Domingo’s 1-0 victory over Everton Church Club in their first match back in 1878.
Afterwards, the squad had a few short speeches to mark the milestone of their first match. I didn’t need to be fluent in Krio to see how thankful the players were to Amjata – as the driving force of the project – and his community backers for the opportunity to be at the start of something new.
As I travelled back by poda-poda, I reflected on the club’s warm welcome and resolved to do my bit to help it sustain its early momentum.
Only as I trudged, leaden-footed, up the hill to home did I register a very different sort of warmth: the tell-tale tingle of sunburn.
We’d only felt the full heat of the African sun for a short period on a mostly cloudy day, and at one point there’d even been a welcome cooling shower.
But I’d been out a lot longer than intended and only when I stepped through the door to see The One With The Common Sense wince did it register just how raw my shoulders had become. One application of factor 30 simply hadn’t cut it.
Wife and child hadn’t fared much better, as it turned out. They’d been housebound for much of the day, as our friend’s car had also broken down. So it wasn’t much of a Sunday for them.
Our coolant problem has since been sorted but I’ve learned my lesson and am not celebrating yet. Something else will go wrong shortly.
Oh, and the generator is leaking oil again. We’re certainly back on the treadmill of life in Sierra Leone alright.