Monday, February 27, 2006


So, it appears that Besigye lost the election, and is somewhat predictably complaining of fraud. Ballot boxes not sealed, intimidation of his supporters etc. Let's just hope he doesn't do anything too radical.

I left Entebbe as planned, with no upsets and Ravel waving tearfullly to the girl he was leaving behind. I could have sworn he was mouthing the words 'I love you' as we walked out of the terminal building. I felt genuinely sorry for him at the moment, as it is more than unlikely they will ever see each other again. I learnt that the cause of their apparent tiff was that she had not told him she was in Uganda for the next three years as a community volunteer. I asked him why not. He told me she did not know how to say 'community volunteer' in English. I asked how she was going to manage in a country where Spanish is not on the school curriculum. He did not know, he said with a shrug.

So anyways, off we went. The words of the great Mark Knopfler ran through my head 'A lovestruck Romeo...sweet seranade..', or something like that. I confess I even shed a tear as I saw Ravel press his face to the cabin window to keep his sights on the girl for as long as possible. I patted him on the shoulder and comforted him with the usual 'don't worry old chap, there are plenty more fish in the sea' he looked quizzically at me, and I spent the next hour of he journey teaching him the meanings behind several well known idioms.

Once in Nairobi we headed for the travel agent who was due to supply us with tickets for our weekend on the coast. En route I rang them, only to discover they had cancelled our booking. Shock horror, gnashing of teeth, etc etc. I asked them what they could do about it, and why had the tickets been cancelled. It emerged there had been too long a delay in issuing the tickets after I had made the booking, which meant the system has automatically cancelled. All we could do was go to the airport and wait for a flight on standby.

We went for some food in town then headed back to the airport. The lady on the desk told us we were at position 16 in a queue of 16. I groaned outwardly, surprising an old lady in the business class queue. But I needn't have worried. By chance there were exacly 16 no-shows, which meant we caught our plane. We landed in Mombasa about 1130 pm and had a car waiting for us. The driver is someone I know from previous trips, and he is always happy to wait around, so it was a stress free trip up to Kilifi, about an hours drive up the coast.

I had been given an address by a friend where we were due to stay - a house in a compound near the Kilifi creek. I was to pick up the keys from security. But when I arrived, the security guard at first refused to let us in. I asked why, and he said because the guest had already arrived, and he wasn't told to expect more people. I told that WE were the guests, and that he had better let us in or his job would be in danger. I showed him emails, offered him money, begged and pleaded but he wouldn't give way. I then started to shout to gain the attention of whom ever was inside. My noisy emissions first set the dogs barking in a chain reaction around the neighbouring compounds, then 3 more guards arrived bearing truncheons, and finally there was movement from within the house.

I peeked behind the throng of security personnel, who were looking at me with a mixture of aggressiveness and puzzlement to see a woman in t-shirt and shorts walking towards us, brandishing a torch and an iron bar. I shouted hello and told her I was the guest, and asked if she could please let me in. She came to the door, looked us both up and down, and then put down the metal bar, much to my relief. 'Hi guys, I'm Mags' she said in a thick Australian accent. 'You must be Crumbly plus one I guess. Don't stand there getting grief from these bozos. Come on in....'

The 'bozo's moved away in silence, and I hurried through the gates with my bag, Ravel close behind. The gates shut, and we walked into the villa. The weekend was about to begin....

*****To be Continued********

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The votes are being counted......

The white noise coming out of the radio almost drowns the announcer’s voice, but it is still possible to hear names and counts as they are called in from constituencies around the country. The opposition candidate, Kizza Besigye, is in the lead (2200 hrs local time), and by a reasonable margin. Who knows what will happen tomorrow. Ugandan elections are….well… let’s just say that they have a history of not being entirely free and fair. The waiter at the hotel where we dined ce soir said we should pray for peace. I said we should pray for a hot buffet, seeing as how I had just had to endure a meal where the cutlery was warmer than the food. Ravel and his ‘friend’ didn’t seem to mind. He seems to have somehow recovered from the stomach ailment that was sending him into a delirious state, and spent most of the evening gazing at the girl. Oddly, she kept her eyes firmly on her food, and I wondered whether or not they had endured a tiff of some kind during her visit earlier in the day. They are now sitting in the garden, not saying much. I fear this may have been a fleeting romance, beset with problems from the start, not least of which was the language barrier. He hails from Bulgaria, she from Spain. Neither of them speak much English.

Vote counting, Ugandan style.

At least we are now all fully refreshed after stealing into the swimming pool showers at the local upmarket hotel after hours. An announcement on the radio is asking for people to be sparing with the water, as if there were any water to spare. Presumably the hotel has its own water tank, else they must be stealing it from everyone else. Mine host treated us all to the meal, so mustn’t grumble, but next time I think I’ll choose the location.

Off to Kenya tomorrow for a weekend of hard earned rest and relaxation in a beach-side house overlooking the Indian Ocean near Mombasa. Well, that’s the plan. If the opposition do indeed win then I might need all my negotiating skills (not to mention a few bags of large denomination notes) to get us both a seat on any plane exiting the country. We might need to draw straws as to who stays behind. If Ravel can patch things up with his friend, he might not mind too much. Anyways, watch this space….


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Water water everywhere.....

….and not a drop to drink. Well, not much anyway. We are surrounded on 3 sides by the mighty waters of Lake Victoria, but the powercuts are continuing, and we are now on day 4 without a proper water supply. Recycling is the order of the day. Dishwater is used to fill the cistern, and left over water boiled for tea is used to fill the washing bowl. A man on a motorbike comes once a day from Entebbe town to re-stock the meagre collection of plastic oil containers that are kept aside for situations such as we are experiencing.

Of course I must not complain too much. This is what fieldwork is all about. Ravel, unused to such stringent measures, is taking steps to avoid the water deficiency by making use of a local hotel’s facilities once a day. I have told him under no circumstances should he go swimming in the lake, for it harbours various nasty diseases including Bilharzia – a parasite that has wrecked many millions of peoples lives. I don’t want my most faithful research assistant laid up with a hundred worms dancing in his mesenteric veins.

Work does not stop. I have been kept inordinately busy by mine hosts, who are keen to collaborate and to hear of my skills with geographical equipment that derives ground locations in 3 dimensions from the triangulation of satellites (or something like that. I just press the power button and take readings). I have been so busy that I have fair neglected my other responsibilities, including dear Mrs Dr McCrumble, and the twins. Good evening to all of you – I shall make it home soon!

Footnote: As I mentioned previously, Ravel was up all night on the plane talking to a girl who was also travelling to Uganda (despite the sedative!). I understand that they have made a date, despite the language barrier. Aaah, I feel a twinge of nostalgia, and I do hope they have a happy time. That is, if I can afford to let Ravel out of the laboratory for a few hours.

P.S. It is the Ugandan elections tomorrow. So far, no indication of large scale trouble. I have been told that Friday will be the day to have bags packed ready for the off. Watch this space!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Plagued by powercuts

Arrived in Uganda after a bad night's sleep on the plane despite the upgrade. Man next to me started talking as soon as I sat down and finished several hours later with the words 'when I sleep I snore and fart. Goodnight.' Ravel, on the other hand, apparently got on so well with the girl next to him that he got no sleep at all. He has been trying to catch up ever since.

Unfotunately, I have to keep this post short. We are currently under a severe power shortage, due to Uganda pumping far more water out of Lake Victoria through their hydro-electric dam than they should. The lake level has dropped by a metre in the last year and there is no power every other day. I will try and catch up as soon as possible. In the meantime, please spare a thought for us - for not only is there no power (the computer is running on nearly-empty), but also no water. The toilet is out of bounds and Ravel is already having stomach problems. I fear the worst....

P.S. How I became a celebrity will be continued when I can, I promise


Friday, February 17, 2006

Up, up and away

Yes, I am en route to warmer climes. The tropics beckon seductively - palm fronds wave rhythmically in the warm breeze, and the warm, sparkling water laps ever so gently at the shores of Lake Victoria (shame it's full of nasty diseases).

I was all ready to spend many an hour on flight KQ105 to Nairobi in cattle class when I suddenly heard my name being called over the tannoy. Oh rabbits, I thought, I'm going to get bumped. Ravel (my faithful research assistant and travelling companion), asked what bumped meant. I tried to explain, but his English is still so poor that I felt it was a useless endeavour and gave up. Luckily, fortune was giving me a smile, and I was not bumped, but rather UPGRADED!

This, dear reader, does not happen very often. In this case it is because the plane is full, and I get priority as a frequent flyer. I've flown 'Premier' before on my airmiles (which are substantive as you might imagine). But usually this means sacrificing airmiles for luxury, and has to be organised three months in advance on the offchance that someone previously in Premier has cancelled/died and a seat has become vacant. What joy, at least for me. Now poor Ravel must travel alone, with a complete stranger by his side. It shouldn't be too difficult for him though, as I slipped a slow-release sedative into his afternoon tea to stop him re-creating the shenanigans last time we flew long distance together (his rather erractic behaviour nearly got him arrested).

I'm currently sat in the holi-deck (business class lounge) of Heathrow terminal 4, luxuriating on budweiser beer and mini-cheddars. Just enough time for another couple before the plane leaves.

Aaah, the joy of (first-class) travel.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Off to the equator!

Dear readers

The title of this post does not lie. On Friday evening I am indeed partaking of an adventure to foreign lands. To a country that straddles the equator, that Winston Churchill once called the 'Pearl of Africa'

Can you guess where that is yet?

Here's a clue. Idi Amin, the last King of Scotland.

Correct, it's Uganda. I'm going to be there on the day they hold their general election. The incumbent president, one Yoweri Musevoni , has decided to, er, redevelop the constitution and allow himself to stand for one more term. How much would you like to bet that he'll be there forever?

Given the opportunity, I'll try and post news of events AS THEY HAPPEN. Failing that, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. I'll be camped near the airport in Entebbe, so if rioting breaks out I'll be out of there like a rabbit out of a stray dogs home.

yours in trepidation


Monday, February 13, 2006

How I became a celebrity (Part II)

Please read 'How I became a celebrity - part I' before reading this post.

Part II - The swamp.

Still jetlagged some four days later, I was put on a Quantas plane to Papua New Guinea along with the rest of the crew. I hadn't yet met the 'celebrities', and was told they were being prepared in Australia by spending some time with the producer in a rainforest camp near Cairns. We flew further inland on some very rickety planes and landed at Goroka, from where we were driven to a camp somewhere in the middle of a patch of forest. I didn't recognise the place, and was somewhat surprised by the choice of location for the camp. About two hundred meteres from where the tents were pitched was a swamp. Mosquitoes are very fond of swamp, and I immediately had the premonition that we might be their main source of food for the next few weeks. I checked my supply of insect-repellant and was relieved to see that Mrs Dr McCrumble had packed an extra cannister of my own pungent concoction. It was a matter of some small pride that I had never been bitten by a mossie anywhere whilst sporting my own repellant (the exact recipe I cannot reveal, but I can tell you that one key ingredient was the produce of the sweat glands of Denise, my faithful receptionist).

The swamp!

The crew were a sullen bunch, and I found it difficult to converse with them as they went about setting up the set. They had brought with them all sorts of equipment and props, none of which I could fathom as to their use. When I asked what this piece of plastic pipe, or that airgun, was for, they shrugged and told me it was the producer who told them to bring it. At nights, they would sit around drinking beer, swatting mossies and regailing each other with stories about women they had met in other parts of the world. I felt excluded, having given my heart to Mrs Dr McCrumble at such an early age and never having played away, so to speak. Their crudeness unsettled me so much that I tended to withdraw early to read through back issues of the Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medics, a journal edited by my eminent forefather, Prof Ebeneezer McCumbernauld (RIP). The green paste I slathered over my body each evening did the trick, but each morning I would see numerous new marks on the hands and faces of the crew. They asked each other if anyone had any repellent, but somehow they had all forgotten. Though I had no reason to distrust them, I locked my own repellent away each morning

After about five days of, well nothing much happening, the producer and celebrities arrived. I was relieved to see the jeeps pull into the compound, and as they disembarked I wondered out loud why it had taken them so long. I also pointed out that we were camped next to a large swamp and that mosquitoes were a well known risk factor for several nasty diseases. The producer ushered the celebrities towards their tents before telling me simply that there had been some 'technical difficulties' in Cairns. Some minutes later I was finally introduced to the celebrities as 'Dr McCrumble, the camp doctor'. This raised some titters amongst the crowd, for reasons I could not fathom, but I did have to correct them on one point - that I am not, in fact, medically qualified. On hearing this, the producer took a long drag on her cigarette and drew me to one side. She told me in a whispering but firm tone that I was contractually obliged to act as medical consultant, and that I should not alarm the contestants any more than necessary. Did we understand each other? Yes, I said, though I was a little perturbed by her sullen manner, and the sharp grip she was exercising on my arm....

********TO BE CONTINUED**********

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

How I became a celebrity - part I

Dear Reader

It is true to say that I have been labelled, by various sources, as a celebrity. Believe me when I say that I did not bestow this moniker on myself, but rather it came to me by way of no other reason than I was doing my job. I am not one of those people who sought to become famous, nor do I widely advertise the fact that I have become somewhat elevated beyond the usual media positioning of scientists (with some notable exceptions of course, Lord W).

So, in the spirit of this blog, I hereby present you with the story of how I became the world's first celebrity parasitologist......

It all began about four years ago, when I was still in my university position and preparing to spend the rest of my days confined to relative obscurity. Others around me were carrying on as normal when one day I received a phone call from someone representing an independent production company that specialised in reality television programmes. I remember quite clearly that I was somewhat dubious of the person's credentials, and had to be directed to a website with their details before I was convinced. Anyway, it emerged after several minutes of conversation that this company were planning to take several men and women well known to the British public into a jungle somewhere in South East Asia and put them through a series of tasks designed to test their metal. It sounded somwhat similar to other such programs you might have seen, and I questioned whether this was an original piece of programming or simply a copy using inferior celebrities, to which the answer was 'for confidentiality reasons I can't reveal any more at the moment'

I wondered briefly if they were going to ask me to take part, but my fears were allayed when the researcher told me that they just wanted a scientific adviser with knowledge of potential biological hazards in the area. They had found my name on several papers with data collected in Papua New Guinea and come to the conclusion that I could be useful. Well, it just so happened that I was hoping to mount an parasite-gathering expedition to PNG that summer, and I really couldn't think of a better way to obtain funding. So after a few hours of negotiation I finally agreed. The stipend wasn't fantastic, but I did have a promise that I could spend some of my time collecting specimens. All they really wanted me to do was to stand by the set, advising on what the celebrities could or could not eat and what hidden dangers may be lurking in the jungle. Piece of cake, I thought.

Ten weeks later I was taken to Heathrow by limo and put on a plane to Brisbane. There, I met the small production team who all seemed quite relieved when I was introduced. We had a briefing session in a local hotel, where I learnt that the production was already having financial troubles and two of the celebrities had pulled out. The identities of the remaining five were revealed to me, but to be honest I didn't know any of them. There was a female singer from a 1960's folk band, an ex judo-champion from Cumbria, the wife of a long-forgotten MP, a male newsreader from a local Welsh TV station, and a business entrepreneur who had made his fortune selling those magazines that come with (very small) bits of model cars each week. All of them had declared themselves fit and able for the tasks in hand. Their mean age was 58. One of them had a glass eye, two of them were allergic to peanuts, and none of them had been in the jungle before. The title of this programme - well, it wasn't entirely a copy of previous jungle-survival-celebrity type programmes. No, this one was way down the ladder. They had called it 'Celebrity Jungle Love Island Extreme - return to Irin Jaya'

It made me wince just to think about what these poor people were about to be put through.....

******** TO BE CONTINUED *********