While the missus has been plotting our route to family happiness with a new exciting move, I’m in the running for a World’s Worst Husband award.
Not only did I fail to get The One With The Common Sense a birthday present, I robbed her of a birthday lie-in.
It wasn’t that I’d made no effort to find a present, only that I’d put my gift-buying eggs in one basket with a plan to get something from a fancy boutique down the Peninsular Highway. I drove there specially on birthday eve to find it shut – the owner off travelling.
Despite being warned that she’d be getting nowt this year, and despite the fact she’d been on a night out with friends, she took pity on me for having had three consecutive nights of poor sleep and got up to deal with the Flump.
When I finally clambered out of bed I went downstairs to discover that the child had already destroyed my one successful contribution to the birthday celebrations – a hand-made card from daughter to mother – by ripping it to bits.
So, for a second consecutive week, my sister-in-law rescued a birthday. She’d managed to stow some gifts of clothes and English tea with our recent visitor, Topsy Tim, meaning the missus at least had something to open.
Even one of her work colleagues managed a better effort than I did, phoning to noisily warble Happy Birthday and offer lengthy prayers in the style of an evangelical preacher (not uncommon here).
As we prepared for Saturday buns, I realised with dismay that I’d not even thought about a birthday cake. Just what had I been doing all week?
So, taking a break from our beach bun routine, we called in at Gina’s coffee shop, pretty much the only place in town you can buy a decent Americano, for some fancy pastries.
Thankfully, they didn’t disappoint and for once the Flump even let her mum have some.
We’d decided to spend the evening at Sussex beach, where decades ago an Italian settled down with a Salonean woman and created the sort of restaurant that would happily hold its own back in Lo Stivale.
Home-made pasta with local seafood – I had crab; the birthday girl, tiger prawns – was washed down with that rare extravagence, a bottle of wine (£20 a bottle for bog-standard plonk). It’s probably the best and certainly the most delicate food we’ve eaten in Sierra Leone.
The same is true of the accommodation. There’s nothing overly fancy about the spacious, airy rooms. But unlike so many even top-whack places here, they’re built – and more importantly maintained – well.
Not that we spent much time in it. Once it was past Flumpo’s bedtime, we sat out on the balcony swilling beer and watching the torrential rain.
The main attraction, of course, is the location. You dine overlooking a tidal inlet, through which you have to wade chest-deep to reach the beach proper. Go at the right time and once you’re there you can have a mile-and-a-half of glistening sand to yourself.
The water, clear and warm, hits a sand bar before crashing against the steep beach. Splashing around in it is lovely.
Even better is lying face down on the sand, letting the waves fizz around your body.
Our breakfast of omelette was topped off with a coconut freshly hacked down from the palm. Then, after a swim and more delicious seafood pasta for Sunday lunch, we headed back to Freetown in time for one last treat: a milkshake at Lumley Beach.
Considering I’d made such a hash of the preparations, the One With the Common Sense seemed to have quite a nice time after all.
Still, she took her revenge for my incompetence by disappearing to Liberia and leaving me at home with the Flump for the next week.
It proved a long one, meaning I needed a good drink by the time Friday came around. So I scraped the tatty beard from my chin and the rainy-season mould from my shoes and jumped into a cab, apparently driven by a 12-year-old, with another English dad from nursery, Fred.
I say “jumped” but given there were already two passengers in the back it was more of a squeeze. Consequently, Fred ended up spending the brief journey sitting on my lap.
I suppose that’s one way to get to know each other better.
We headed from Bottom Mango to Congo Cross – they have great names for junctions here – and strolled to our chosen venue The Plum Store. Fred’s been around, on-and-off, since 2003 so knows Freetown much better than I do. And he’d made a good choice.
I’d not been in a bar like it before. Despite being on a main road and having a tarpaulin roof, Afrobeats played at any unusually bearable volume drowned out the traffic noise to create a really nice atmosphere.
The locals sitting around the spacious courtyard were easy-going sorts and we whiled away several enjoyable hours drinking cheap Star.
A lack of taxis at 1am meant I had no option but to take my first Okada ride. I’m not usually brave enough for motorbikes but we negotiated a “small-small” pace along with the price.
I didn’t quite manage to get the hang of where to put my feet, meaning they scraped the ground on bends, but – emboldened by beer – I found whizzing along the bumpy shortcuts quite thrilling.
The late night set the tone for an unusually boozy weekend. I’d arranged to meet a man about a mountain (specifically climbing Sierra Leone’s highest, Bintumani) and so picked him up for tea and a chat about teaming up to conquer its slopes.
Joe’s a mate of a mate and I wasn’t expecting a fresh-faced graduate, aged 22. Despite my feeling uncomfortably ancient, we spent such an enjoyable evening making plans that it ended in G&Ts at 4am and him crashing at our place.
The poor lad was so discombobulated when he woke at eight that he thought he’d slept through an entire day and feared we’d be really annoyed.
He showered but, not having packed a towel, he reached out for the only absorbent item he could find and ended up drying himself with a toilet pedestal mat.
He arrived downstairs to realise it was only 8.30am and that he was in perfect time for scrambled eggs.
His day went from bad to worse when I dropped him at the bus stop. Flustered by some police trying (unsuccessfully) to extort cash from us by claiming (untruthfully) that he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, he left his phone in my car.
While Joe left to finish his horror show of a day back at the remote orphange where he works, we headed to a Hallowe’en party with our Irish friend Maria and her daughter Kayma – one of Flumpo’s nursery pals.
Being useless, we didn’t manage to organise a costume for Flumpo.
But we nonetheless had a great time revisiting our childhoods by watching her try biting an apple on a string and bobbing in a bowl which, inevitably, ended with child in bowl eating fruit.
That’s more healthy, at least, than our nursery’s idea of having the older kids set a Hallowe’en treasure hunt of sweets for the little ones.
It might have an odd view of what’s acceptable to feed toddlers, but we’re ever more impressed by the nursery. It recently held a “cultural day”, having children parade to the beat of a drum in “national dress” with flags demonstrating their heritage.
While there were some impressive African ensembles on display, the Brits and Irish let the side down. The Flump’s outfit had not a shamrock in sight, and was more pink, white and sky blue than Union Flag colours.
Still, we did manage to get the colours of her hand-held flags right. Poor Kayma ended up waving green, white and yellow.
The youngsters marched around the nursery yard, singing that “everywhere we go…” song. Football culture means I can’t hear the line “where do you come from”, without thinking “we’re from Wolverhampton”.
But it was good fun and featured an impressive array of “mighty, mighty” countries.
Meanwhile, we continue to do our best to ignore life’s little difficulties. The electricity meter is still on the blink and the generator packed up completely.
Our whole area has been blacked out a fair bit this week, leading to some odd adventures for the Flump. One night I discovered her half-way down the pitch-black staircase holding a torch.
Another time she screamed so much at the indignity of being put to bed that she threw up, meaning I had to hand-wash vomit from her bedclothes by candlelight.
Meanwhile, the car has been back under the mechanic. (Or should that be the other way around?)
A peculiarity here that when they replace parts, they present you with the worn-out ones as proof that the work’s been carried out.
So it is that I’m left with empty oil containers, and assorted springs and brake pads that might as well have come from a light aircraft (or at least a scrapyard) for all I know about vehicles.
Any efforts to prove that I know my alternator from my exhaust went out of the window when I queried whether the air conditioning had broken, only for the mechanic to point out it wasn’t switched on.
But I’m comforted by the fact the car is moving a whole lot better than it had been. Hopefully it’ll be fit for a couple of road trips over the coming months as we attempt to make the most of the remainder of our time here.