About Andy McFarlane

Overnight #BBCPapers blogger and one-time newspaper reporter, writing children's books when not being a dad, Ealing Eagle and long-suffering Everton fan. Once a hapless backpacker, now settled in the outer reaches of West London.

The floods in Freetown

A few people have contacted me in light of the awful news from Sierra Leone, where hundreds died as a result of the mudslide just outside Freetown.

Thousands of others are reported to have been left homeless as a result of the floods.

The mudslide affected a mountain area on the main road out of the city. However, many of the pictures are clearly of more central areas. I’ve tried to make out from photographs the areas worst affected but the obvious chaos makes this difficult. There are reports that corpses were washed down into Lumley Creek, a short distance from where we lived.
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To be continued?

It’s been more than three months and we’ve been away from Sierra Leone for long enough to have started missing it.

Every so often, when we pause for breath from our busy “normal” lives, we find ourselves missing the colour, the chaos and sheer fascination of life in Freetown.

And we felt that more keenly than ever during our journey to London to attend last Friday’s UK Blog Awards finals. As usual, we were running late and hadn’t found time to eat either side of dropping the Flump with my sister-in-law.

With our train still 30 minutes outside the capital, the One With the Common Sense remarked: “This is where you miss being able to yell out of the window for a bag of popcorn or plantain chips.” Continue reading

Our expat experience – the last word

I don’t suppose you ever completely know what you’re heading into when you move abroad but it’s fair to say we hadn’t the first idea.

As I look back to those first days in Sierra Leone, I struggle to remember how I kept the Flump entertained through those long days with only a few books and the odd toy, and nothing so much as an electric fan to temper the searing March heat


Keeping hydrated was our prime concern early on

It must go down as one of the most challenging times in my life. We had so few possessions, no reliable means of transport, uncertainty over the arrival of our freight and, unsurprisingly, doubts as to the wisdom our choice.

It was tough at the time but we just blamed ourselves for being a bit feeble. Besides, wasn’t it our own fault if we were ill-prepared?

Anyway, how could we complain when a short walk outside would reveal how tough life really could get? Continue reading

My Sweet Salone top five


Chaotic transport and poor infrastructure might keep Sierra Leone off the mainstream tourist trail for a while yet but new flight choices could soon tempt the more adventurous traveller. 

Dutch airline KLM will fly to Freetown three times a week from March 26, after a two-decade hiatus. It’s currently offering £470 returns from London or Manchester and there are signs that rivals are dropping prices, making a long weekend or week’s break more feasible.

So what are Sweet Salone’s top attractions? Here’s my favourite five:

5. The Sierra Leone Marathon

Okay, so I only ran the half distance – my body really wasn’t ready for 26.2 miles – but whatever you feel fit for, it’s worth making the journey for a race with a truly special atmosphere. The charity Street Child puts together a fantastic itinerary that allows runners to meet some of the kids they’re raising money to help, both in rural schools and the host town of Makeni.

Sierra Leone Marathon-2016-180

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Finally, farewell

It might be five weeks since we left its shores but only now can I say we’ve truly left Sierra Leone.

Of course, the emotional ties – to places, friends and former colleagues – remain. But the thing that’s kept our minds well and truly anchored to Freetown is physical: a 45kv generator and the bloody great, off-white lump of rusting metal it’s encased in.20160409_133110

Until yesterday, it was still sitting outside our former back kitchen window swaddled in/held together by a big blue tarp. And that meant our watchmen were still sitting out front, “guarding” it, as though any old petty thief could stroll in and pinch something that took 10 men an entire afternoon to manually heave from the front gate.

I don’t have details of how they managed to shift the great hulk. The canopy was twice the size of the generator, which was big enough to power a small office, and arrived by crane from the back of a lorry. But we’re informed it has left the premises.

So now we can pay our watchmen their final wages, hand the landlord back his keys and repay the interest-free loan we had to take from The One With The Common Sense’s employer to cover the cost of the sodding thing (along with an entire year’s rent) in the first place. Continue reading

Back to ‘normal’?

I’m struggling to get Sierra Leone out of my system, quite literally.

The results of my re-entry medical check have finally come through, and it turns out I’ve been harbouring some more parasites.

This time it’s Giardia lamblia. They’re not so grizzly as the earthworm-sized roundworm that made its home in my guts recently (and which thankfully didn’t emerge from my nose, as a doctor told me can happen).


Giardia: cheerful or menacing? [Photo: schmidty4112/Flickr]

They most commonly manifest themselves through eggy burps, which have – to The One With The Common Sense’s relief – been notable by their absence.

However, I’ve displayed plenty of the other symptoms of giardiasis listed by the NHS, including abdominal cramps, nausea, fatigue, bloating and – to The One With The Common Sense’s chagrin – “foul-smelling flatulence”.

So the diagnosis explains a lot and I’ll cling to it as an excuse for as long as possible. Continue reading

Ending on a high

We’ve been back home a week but my brain hasn’t quite assimilated that we’ve left Sierra Leone.

Since touching down at Heathrow I’ve felt like a rabbit in the headlights. Or, at least, one dazzled by the neon glow from the logistics warehouses at the back of Terminal 4, which seemed impossibly modern after the equivalent sights at Lungi.votenow-1

I’ve spent most of the week hiding indoors, much as I did during my first seven days in Freetown. More than a sort of reverse culture shock, however, it’s a common cold that’s kept me confined to quarters.

It made for a low-key end to a tumultuous year. But 2017 got off to a great start when I discovered this website had been shortlisted in the Travel section of the UK Blog Awards.

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Beside Freetown’s festering seaside


Gaze out from the water’s edge at Kroo Bay and you see a typical West African seaside vista.

It’s not picture postcard exactly but attractive enough, with traditional wooden fishing vessels rounding a coastline punctuated by cotton trees and the odd leaning palm.

But this is no place for a picnic.HPIM1471-1.jpg

Turn 180 degrees and you’ll take in the rusting metal roofs of tiny slum dwellings that house somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 people. Continue reading

Haven of tranquility


As we glided silently over the barely rippling waters of the River Moa, listening to the myriad exotic birdcalls, I finally understood.

This was why Tiwai Island is hailed as the jewel in the crown of Sierra Leone’s natural splendour, and by many as the country’s number one destination full-stop.title

A landscape straight out of Jurassic Park – of exotic palms, 200-foot kapok trees and giant bamboo plants – was mirrored with the fading sun on the water.

And with a solitary fisherman in a dugout canoe for company, my sexagenarian father-in-law and I felt like little boy explorers on a storybook adventure. Continue reading