Gas and air

We’ve been waiting for months for the gas cylinder that powers our cooker to run empty.

And Sod’s Law dictated that it’d happen mid-lasagne, when we had guests on the way.

Cue a mad dash and tour of west Freetown’s petrol stations to find a replacement.

However, all turned out well and we had a pleasant evening with our friends George and Anne, and their two kids.

It was, for us, tinged with sadness, as it was a farewell dinner before they headed off for a new life in Anne’s native Canada, via a stop in England.

It’s struck us how quickly friendships come and go for expats, as people finish their stints abroad and move on.

Living in a foreign country, immersed in another culture, is great. But if you value your sanity you need people you can connect with easily, who understand you without explanation, and who share your sense of humour.

So The One With The Common Sense is sorry to lose her running buddy, while I’ll miss the company of another bloke who followed his wife’s career path abroad while taking on the main responsibilities at home.

While I’m using my time away from work to write, he’s spent his studying via the Open University. We’ve both been grateful for the opportunities but there’s no doubting the lifestyle feels odd to blokes who’ve always worked.


Brothers in armchairs

He told me the hardest thing was imagining what the African guys in his compound thought of a bloke who stayed at home while his missus went to work.

It’s nonsensical; I don’t imagine they care a jot. But I know exactly what he means. For me, the most difficult thing is not earning a wage. And while the boot’s been on the other foot in our relationship in the past, I still don’t like not having my own regular income.

So I feel like I’m losing a like-minded soul as George heads back to the West… and back to work.

As for our Saturday evening, we needn’t have worried about the meal being delayed. George and Anne only made it to the top of their road before their car’s engine overheated.

This was just the latest setback in what’s not been a great week for automobiles.

I seem to be spending as much time with our mechanic as with The One With The Common Sense at the moment. Every new fault sends my blood pressure soaring as high as the engine temperature was during a particularly heavy downpour last week when rain was evaporating off the bonnet at alarming speed.

Mr Koroma, the mechanic, strolled along the next day, armed with his special fault code-reading computer. His initial diagnosis was that the thermostat wasn’t working. The cure, however, was a little unconventional.

It involved disconnecting the fan, pulling out the coolant chamber and yanking out a spaghetti portion of multi-coloured wiring. With a touch like that, I’m glad he’s not a surgeon.


I watched, forlorn, imagining the millions of Leones this was all going to cost to put back together. Then he handed me what looked like a fuse fixing attached to a clump of now-severed wires.

“This wiring is all wrong. It’s DC,” he says. Now, I know even less about the finer points of electrical wiring than I do about cars but I did notice it was a Nissan part. My car is a Toyota.

“Okay, so how long will this take to repair?” I asked, envisaging at least two-days in the garage, at great expense.

“I need pliers and insulation tape,” he replied. It’s a peculiarity of many Sierra Leonean tradesman that they turn up for jobs with neither tools nor materials.

Many doubtless can’t afford to stock stuff and then risk having it nicked, just on the off-chance that they’ll need it. And I’m sure there’s a reluctance to carry around too many valuables in the form of tools.

Whatever the reason, it was fortunate that I’d popped into Wilko’s while at home to buy a set of pliers. But as to where I’d left that roll of tape I knew I’d brought…

There followed much cursing when I couldn’t find it, phoning of the One With The Common Sense in the expectation that she’d know where I’d put it, and more cursing when she told me she didn’t.

As usual, it was down to one of our ever-resourceful watchmen to bail me out. Ibrahim, a trainee electrician, dug out a roll and within a few minutes the mechanic had the fan working as it should.

His special fault code-reading machine gave the car a clean bill of health and he strolled off having charged me the original estimate, equivalent to £20.


He offered no clue as to what the mass of wiring he’d removed might have done, so I’m still half-expecting the whole thing to cut out/overheat/catch light at any moment. But it was running fine as he left.

That was until our Sunday beach trip, when a new warning light came on – one I didn’t recognise.

I asked The One With The Common Sense to delve into the glove box for the car’s manual and she informed me the exclamation-mark symbol meant some sort of “brake system” failure.

Cue yet more cursing and fretting. But the brakes appeared to be working and so I proceeded with caution and we made it home in one piece.

Only after I’d dragged the mechanic out again did I regret taking the wife’s interpretation of symbols at face value. When Mr Koroma’s special machine turned up no fault.  He glanced at the dash to declare: “This? It means one of your tyres has lost pressure.”


If you want something doing properly…

Cringing with embarrassment, I pulled the digital compressor from the boot and inflated it myself – something I could easily have done in the first place.

The mechanic was kind enough to waive any fee on this occasion, presumably because it was worth the journey to get a laugh at this poor numbskull. He was equally kind not to reveal any signs of mirth until after he’d left our place.

Having a car has been pretty crucial these past couple of weeks, while I’ve been looking after The Flump full-time.

It’s not been anything like the challenge of when I first arrived, when I was at the mercy of an unreliable taxi driver, sweltering in a house without power and hadn’t a clue what to do with myself – let alone a toddler – in a strange land.


Nature’s Home magazine… the discerning toddler’s periodical

These days, I have an army of helpers – Tom & Jerry, Dora the Explorer, Iggle Piggle and Mr Bloom to name a few – taking on the childcare. While it’s frightening to see an otherwise super-active child stare at the telly with a zombiefied look, I can’t say I don’t enjoy the respite.

It also helps that Flumpo is very talkative and – often – very funny these days. She at an age to be obsessed with little creatures and delights at seeing Incy Mincy Spider, who’s taken up residence on our living room wall, telling him (her?) at every opportunity: “Bye-bye, spider. See you later.”

She has an insatiable appetite for her very-unartistic father drawing “more bees… more ladybirds” in crayons and has taken a particular liking to my RSPB magazine.

While I lament the day it changed its name from simply Birds to Nature’s Home, its wider focus is a delight to the Flump, who points out the foxes, frogs, and squirrels which she calls “Aunty Beryl”, on account of the said relative having a cuddly one on her windowledge.

 So, tears and tantrums aside, I’ve quite enjoyed the daddy-daughter time.

Mind you, it’s unsurprising that she’s been happy to hang around with me since her mother attacked her with the kitchen scissors.

Fed-up with the Flump being given dodgy hairdos, The One With The Common Sense decided to try cutting it herself. Watching her hack away with the big orange blades, better suited to trimming bacon rind, was nothing short of terrifying.

However, I found the results surprisingly stylish – if a touch cock-eyed.

My main domestic success has been the elimination of the great laundry mountain created by the rainy season mould.

Far from being a chore, it’s helped keep both the Flump occupied and me sane, as she “helped” me to hang it up outside and then drag it all in again to dangle in front of the front room window when the weather turned.

I never imagined I’d appreciate a “good drying day” quite so much as I do now. In these conditions of mostly high humidity or torrential rain, you’re never far away from an underpants crisis.

The One With The Common Sense won’t let me shove our smalls in with the rest of the laundry lady’s load. And not only do I have to scrub my go-faster pants myself in the sink, I’m required to hang them out of sight.

This means a stint on the covered front balcony, where they get neither the wind nor sun that the other clothes do and which can result in a lingering musty smell.

At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

1 thought on “Gas and air

  1. Another great read Andy, I agree that it feels strange not to have your own income, I struggled with that on maternity leave, despite it being “the norm”.


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