Flying solo

It’s fair to say I never exactly look forward to The One With The Common Sense spending a week away with work.

But I must be getting used to managing The Flump on my own because I’ve had my most productive writing week for ages.

On top of that, there have been surprisingly few daddyrage incidents and Flumpo has been remarkably forgiving about the fact she’s been living in a sty, what with Mummy not around to tidy up.

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“Cheers, daddy, we made it. Now can I start playing up again?”

I’ve invariably managed to forget one crucial element of her evening routine, tooth-brushing one day, insect spraying the room the next etc.

And I’ve caved in to the demand “Daddy’s bed” a few times, even though sharing invariably means enduring repeated kicks and the odd headbutt.

She’s still an easier bedfellow than the missus, who regularly rakes my calf with her pterodactyl claw of a big toe and uses all manner of violence to combat my snoring.

It was a relief to have Flumpo sleeping through the night, given the One With The Common Sense had in her wisdom withdrawn the comfort of a bedtime bottle just a week before skipping the country.

We’d endured several nights marked by 90 minutes of bedtime screaming, often supplemented with an hour of the same in the wee small ones.

Thinking back, I do wonder how much of the bedtime peace could be attributed to the drumming of heavy rain and my forgetting to turn on the babymonitor until Thursday.

Still, it allowed me to spend my evenings doing what I always do when the boss is away, namely slobbing around in my own filth watching old episodes of the Inbetweeners.

This obviously made for a whirlwind of activity in the final hours before The One With The Common Sense’s return, as I desperately tried to get the place looking half-decent.

Previously, when I should have been cleaning and hand-washing the smalls, I’d been trying to prove my superdad credentials by, ahem, baking.

With our Thursday parents group offering increasingly high standards of baked goods, I thought I’d better have a trial run of a recipe for gari biscuits I’d found on the net.

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They taste better than they look, I promise

Gari, to the uninitiated, is ground dried cassava. A West African favourite, it can be eaten a bit like porridge by simply splashing boiling water over a cup of it.

I quite like it’s bittersweet flavour that way, while others make it into a doughy dumpling called foofoo (that I’m yet to try).

Baking biscuits using an oven heated by bottled gas isn’t the easiest thing, and they took a lot longer to bake than the recipe suggested, but they were just about passable. Next time I think I’ll grate in some ginger – as a few testers came out quite well.

As The One With The Common Sense might remark, I’m now awaiting my medal in the post, along with another for managing to get a full load of washing dry.

I was starting to think we might have seen the back of the rainy season, at least in its full force. The roads were getting busier, more work seemed to be going on, the beaches were more crowded and I got the impression that Freetown was coming back to life.

That feeling was backed up by a couple of scorching days that reminded me of the fierce heat that greeted our arrival in Sierra Leone.

Then Thursday happened.

It bucketed down all day, with only spells of relatively light drizzle as respite, and the Flump and I got well and truly drenched on the way back from Thursday Club when a spot of confusion over a set of keys saw us caught in a downpour.

Still, the weather made for an exhilarating run along a wild Lumley Beach. Brown-green waves crashed against the shore, churning up all manner of driftwood along the way. It was a real thrill to have the wind whipping off the Atlantic and straight into my lungs.

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This boat felt the full force of the Atlantic. Let’s hope its crew fared better

The One With the Common Sense’s absence meant I was restricted to running during nursery hours. I was glad to take advantage of cooler, rainy spells, particularly when trying out some hill training on Tuesday.

It undoubtedly gave the local kids a laugh to see some funny-looking white bloke puffing repeatedly up the same steep 1/3 mile stretch of hill.

I was unusually anxious about the wife’s absence because she’d gone to Liberia. For some reason, the very name of Sierra Leone’s neighbour has always provoked in me a deep unease.

It has less to do with its past wars or devil-worshipping rural societies than the mere sound of its name. While it might be derived from the word “liberty”, being home to slaves freed from the US, it sounds a little too much like a deadly disease for my liking.

Even the capital, Monrovia (after a long-dead American president), has a dystopian ring to it. (Lest any Liberian readers might be offended, I’ll happily accept that Maghull – where I was schooled – could easily sit on the borders of map of Tolkien’s Mordor.)

Anyway, this irrational unease meant I was even keener for her to return asap.

As it happens, she’d had a productive week rubbing shoulders with funding officials, archbishops and ambassadors.

It was aimed at bolstering the work her charity funds in some of the poorest communities of this terribly underdeveloped country.

She met young women being funded to train in tailoring and hairdressing (big business in this part of the world), having either survived Ebola or seen it wipe out much of their family.

One poor woman had lost 14 relatives to the virus. Others were looking after not only their own families but the children of lost relations. Since 2014, millions of pounds in aid has poured in to West Africa to help people like this rebuild their lives but when you visit their communities, you realise just how great the need still is.

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Chief among an NGO worker’s priorities are driving to the Guinean frontier to pose for a photo alongside a baffled border guard

The trip coincided with a visit from Andres, one of the “Big Bosses” from London, and we’d promised to spend Sunday afternoon – his solitary half-day off on the week-long trip – at the beach.

Before then, however, I’d asked him to join me for my usual Sunday run. As I’m training for a rare 10k event taking place here this month, I wanted to go a bit further than he did so drove to the beach just after 6am.

Only when I’d parked up and got out did I realise The One With The Common Sense’s running shoes had travelled with me – on the roof of the car.

She’d left them outside to air and one of the watchmen must have put them on the roof to make sure they didn’t go astray in the night.

I was amazed they’d stayed on.

However, that wasn’t their last significant contribution to the day. On getting back in the car to pick up Andres, I discovered they’d completely stunk it out.

Even after opening all the windows to air the place, I still had to apologise when he got in. It’s certainly one way to leave an impression on your boss.

That afternoon, we went for the obligatory visitors’ trip to River No 2 Beach, of Bounty ad fame. Unlike on our previous visit, it was almost entirely free of seaweed and the water was back to its clear and beautiful best.

With an overcast sky giving respite from the sun, it was our best beach day for ages – and a good job because The Flump insisted on spending practically the whole time in the water.

It’s pretty shattering because if you didn’t fight to keep hold of her, she’d simply drown herself in the enthusiasm to get splashed about by waves. We took it in turns to keep her upright and I was usually glad of my turn to sit back and sip a coke (what, no vimto?) under a parasol.

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It was from this vantage point that I witnessed The One With The Common Sense suddenly fling Flumpo into the arms of Andres. I rose to run to the water in case there was a problem, only to see the wife desperately trying to do up her bathing costume, undone by the nimble fingers of a toddler.

I guess that’s another way to leave an impression on your boss.

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