Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How I became a celebrity - Part VII

Dear Reader

This is it, the first half of the final installment in my extended trilogy. You will soon learn how the label of celebrity was attached to my shoulders. Please turn to another blog now if you are squeamish. Oh no, maybe not that one, try this one instead.

Part VII - The grand finale, part I

The two minute horn sounded and the producer wasted no time in odering the miniature car salesman up onto the tightrope. He tried to protest, but like everyone else in the camp could not stand the evil stare of the producer for very long. Up he climbed, hindered by his blindfold, fishing rod, overhanging belly and incredibly sweaty palms, he slipped twice on the short ladder, the second time landing heavily on one knee. I cringed, almost feeling sorry for both him and the former folk singer who was quietly wimpering somewhere near the centre of the tightrope. Not quite completely sorry of course, because the only harm they were likely to come to was getting wet, and it crossed my mind that they were both being more than a little pathetic.

I say 'were likely to' and 'a little pathetic' with a hint of regret, but that is what I was feeling at the time, and as a responsible rapporteur I feel obliged to tell it like it was.

Being next (and last) in line, it was my job to guide the blindfolded miniature car salesman towards his target. I told him to keep moving whilst I tried to locate the nearest cage using my tried and tested method of Superitis triangulation (v3.1). I thereby easily located the cage, which was bobbing in the swamp water at a bearing of 35.5 degrees, 20 meters north-shorewards, 3 feet lower in altitude relative to the lateral pointing axis of the folk singer's left foot. I shouted these co-ordinates to the blindfolded miniature car salesman and told him to prep his fishing rod. He asked for clarification, but I could find no simpler way to explain where the cage was and simply re-iterated my previous instructions.

The miniature car salesman simply didn't get it. He started shouting at me in the most unsavoury language and tugging angrily on the safety wire with his hands. This made the poor folk singer whimper even louder, which in turn wound up the miniature car salesman, which in turn caused the producer to yell at everyone to 'get a fucking move on, we're running out of film'. I was a paragon of calm in comparison, though I didn't relish having put on the blindfold in about 30 seconds and climb up onto the tightrope.

The producer signalled that I should prepare to get up on the tightrope

'Fuck this, I'm fucking getting off here, fucking contract or not' shouted the miniature car salesman, as he suddenly removed his blindfold. Well, I say removed, but he only got halfway. Having let go of the safety rope with one hand to pull the off the blindfold, he could only manage to uncover one eye before being seized by a sudden paralysis. I could have sworn that his uncovered eye actually bulged slightly, but it was just a trick of the light as the video shown in court later proved.

What happened next was one of those slow motion moments that happen to us all at least once in our lives. I'll try and describe the unfolding scene both accurately and sympathetically, using the present tense for illuminative purposes.

On the left is the producer, waving her arms at the ensemble on the tightrope. She is standing on the edge of the swamp, shouting so vehemently that her barely smoked cigarette tumbles from her mouth onto the wet grassy floor and into the water. I strain to hear the words agains the background of the folk singer's screams. The miniature car salesman is standing completely inflexibly on the tightrope, his uncovered eye fixed on a point somewhere in the middle of swamp. I try to focus on what he is staring at, but all I see at first is reeds and slime. Then, ever so slowly, out of the reeds emerges first the head, then the body of the largest estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus, Schneider, 1801) I have ever seen.

It starts swimming, oh so smoothly and silently towards the two stricken 'celebrities' on the tightrope.

Now, what I knew about the behaviour of these crocodiles at the time was this:
a) they are opportunistic feeders
b) they are sometime cannabilistic
c) once they catch something, they never let go

There was also something else I thought I knew about crocodiles but I just couldn't put my finger on it. The thought vexed me as I watched the producer waving her ams like a banshee. She obviously hadn't seen the crocodile and was actually motioning for me to get on the tightrope.

"Crocodile!" I shouted helpfully, whilst pointing to the middle of swamp, opening and closing my arms to simulate the snapping action of a crocodile's jaws. The producer looked confused momentarily, then her face turned to one of pure anger and she launched such a torrent of abuse in my direction that I almost blushed. There was something in her expression that reminded me of my mother on the day she found my fathers collection of homo-erotica in one of his drawers. I was twelve at the time and no clear understanding of what was going on, but I soon learned many new things.

Then it came to me in flash. The one thing about crocodile behaviour that had so far eluded me.

It was this....

d) larger males will attack any mammal at the water's edge

The first spurt of blood shot up six or seven feet into the air, accompanied by a sickening crunch of splintering bone. The crocodile had changed direction whilst I was watching the producers face and had headed straight for her. Its huge jaws had opened and fastened themselves around the producer's midriff, clamping tight shut faster than I could have slammed shut a hardback book. The poor woman stood no chance, and I will spare you any further details of her demise. Enough to say, I think, that her last words were 'Get this fucking thing off me Crumble....' as she sank into the swamp, dragged down by the thrashing body of the largest estuarine crocodile I ever did see.

It was a moment of great tragedy for all concerned, but the situation threatened to get much worse unless I acted quickly. The crew were all frozen with fear, the miniature car salesman was frozen with fear, and the former folk singer was frozen with fear (and had been for 4 minutes).

I *had* to get up on the tightrope......

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

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

1000 hits and counting!

Yippeeee, I've just made my first thousand hits! If my careful analysis of the stats is correct, the lucky blogger who hit the 1000 mark was none other than my old blogging pal....

wait for it.......

Yes, you guessed right....

Let's give a big hand to....

Mr Gorilla Bananas!

Well done GB, you win a special mention on the FIRST and ONLY McCrumble '1000 Hits and counting' post.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Take me to the beach!

The life of a celebrity parasitologist is never dull. For example, on Thursday I'm off to Kenya for a week for mixture of business and R&R. This time I'm leaving Ravel in charge (see how much I trust my co-workers), and taking with me instead the wonderfully aromatic Mrs Dr McCrumble. It will be her FIRST trip to Africa, believe it or not.

The brief is as follows: for a couple of days I'll be holed up inside an air conditioned hotel conference room attending a meeting of parasitologists whilst Mrs Dr McC suns herself on a Mombasa beach. Then we'll take off together for a few days of safari before heading home in time for Easter. For those of you stuck in good old blighty, here are a couple of pictures I took on my last visit to this hotel, about a year ago....

Now don't get jealous or anything, but this place has 4 swimming pools and serves some of the best food on the coast 3 times a day. The only thing missing is any of the local flying fauna. That's right. They use so much insect repellant that your clothes become permanently impregnated. I haven't had a problem with those devilish Scottish midges since I first visited here as a PhD student in 2001.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

How I became a celebrity Part VI

Part VI - The Tightrope

Day 15 of our trip to the jungle of Papua New Guinea and everyone was in a sour, dour, long faced state of mind, including yours truly. None of the remaining celebrities wanted anything more to do with the programme, the crew were coming down with all manner of ailments, and the producer was becoming crabbier with each passing day. I too became somewhat snappy after the ordeal with the judo player, and even plucked up courage after a particularly strong G&T on day 16 to tell the producer that I was not at all content with being cast in the role of camp doctor. Her only response was to snort, and to tell me that as of tomorrow my services as medical officer would no longer be required. 'How so?' I enquired.

'Because,' she snarled, 'you're going up on the tightrope'

'What mean...'

'Yep. I just renegotiated your contract. We're missing one celebrity, and in the last challenge we need 5 of them. Congratulations Crumble, you've just become a contestant'

'You can't do that!' I protested. 'My contract was to provide advice on dangers in the jungle, not take part in the stunts. I protest most strongly!'

'Check the small print Crumble. The words 'at the producers discretion' appears about 5 times. Now shut the fuck up with your poncy moaning and go speak to Charlie, he'll brief you on the stunt. We begin shooting 8am. Oh, and go see Gaz, he's vomiting again.'

I tried to protest further, but the producer first of all blanked me then strode off muttering under her breath. At this point I made a mental note to file an official complaint to the production company on my return to the UK. I also thought about simply refusing the producer's instructions but I knew it would just cause more trouble. I was being bullied, I knew it, but I couldn't find the strength to fight back. It was like being back at school, with Toby the school bully threatening to castrate me unless I stuck his sports socks in my mouth and sang happy birthday.

Charlie was whittling a piece of wood when I found him sitting on the edge of the swamp. He nodded by way of greeting and told me to sit down beside him. I asked him what he was up to, and he told me that he was fashioning a weapon in case of any trouble in the morning. When I pressed him on the details he switched subjects and launched into a detailed briefing of the stunt I had been pressganged into participating. To cut a long and technically detailed description into a blog-sized nugget it was essentially thus...

A tightrope was to be constructed across the swamp. In the swamp were five cages, each one containing a plastic ball. Each celebrity was expected to cross the tightrope and remove the ball from one of the cages. They were to be given a fishing rod to help them reach the cages if necessary. To make the task a little harder each celebrity on the tightrope was to be blindfolded, with the next one in the queue shouting instructions. A safety rope was to be put in place for the celebrity on the tightrope to hold on to whilst they fished for the cages containing the balls. Each celebrity was given two minutes to complete the task, otherwise they had to give up and move to the end of the tightrope. After the collection of the balls, they would be broken open to reveal the prizes.

Sounded simple enough...(though I really couldn't see why they needed five of us when all they had to do was remove one cage.)

Next morning we all lined up and did a piece to camera. I was introduced by an off camera voice as the 'brave camp doctor' who had volunteered to take on the mantle of the poor ex-judo champion. The other contestants looked miserable, especially the miniature car salesman who complained that he had a terrible sense of balance and was likely to be the first in the water. I told him not to worry as I had personally tested the temperature of the swamp and found it warm enough for bathing.

First up on the rope was the newsreader. He was guided by the former wife of an ex MP (or wife of a former MP, I was never quite sure), and together they made a reasonable job of things. His high pitched swearing contrasted awkwardly with his rather baritone news voice, but his legs didn't give way and he managed to catch a cage without even using the fishing rod. Everyone clapped and sighed with relief when he reached the other side.

The former MPs ex wife couldn't even get up on the tightrope. She tried, but each time her legs would just turn to jelly and she eventually had to scream 'I'm a celebrity - get me a new agent!' to be excused (the standard punishment in such cases was for the defaulter to nominate another celebrity to eat a live cockroach. So far, they had all chickened out of one event each).

The folk singer was next. She started singing one of her old songs ('Do you remember the day old Granny died') as she climbed up onto the rope. On the bank the miniature car salesman was next in line, and he tried to sing along with her as she made her tentative way into the centre of the swamp, clutching onto the safety rope with both hands. She reached point close to where a cage was floating and was told to stop by the miniature car salesman. She was then instructed to cast her rod to her left, about ten metres. But all that instruction produced was small whimper. The poor girl was frozen to the spot. And the clock was ticking. If she didn't get a move on the miniature car salesman would have to start his own journey across the rope.

Now I'm no expert on these things, but I sort of guessed that might make things a little unstable....

***********To Be Continued*********

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Self Portrait

Dr Joseph McCrumble

This is myself wearing my favourite shirt. The goatee beard has been there for many years. I originally grew it to look older. Now that I have exceeded the age at which I am eligble for 'young persons' anything I am loath to remove it in case I don't recognise myself.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

How I became a celebrity (Part V)

Dear reader

The story continues. Please read parts I - IV before this post. Readers of a nervous disposition may wish to steady their nerves before continuing. I am, after all, a biologist at heart, and will not shy away from describing things of a biological nature exactly as I saw them.


Part V 'A botfly in PNG????'

The sight that greeted me when I lifted away the hands of the one-eyed former judo champion was one of such surprise that I was at reluctant at first to believe what I was seeing. Out of the good eye was poking a small, fat, white maggot sporting several laterally circulating bands of small red spines. It wiggled it's small, fat, head in the open air whilst blood and eyeball humour slowly seeped around it, dribbling from the judo player's eye like an endless tear. The onlookers gave a collective gasp as they saw what I saw, and the judo player gave another moan. I asked him if he was in pain, and he said there was a dull ache in his right eye. He then asked me what was wrong, and why he couldn't see anything. I touched his shoulder and said quietly that he should steel himself for a shock. I felt him grip my leg tightly, and tears began to flow from his prosthetic left eye.

'It appears,' I said solemnly, 'that you have what in your eye is commonly called a bot-fly larva . The latin name.....give me a Dermatobia hominis. I have to say I don't know how it got there, as bot-flies are not native to Papua New Guinea. It would, if we lend ourselves to the scientific importance od this observation, suggest that we have made a discovery worthy, no less, of mentioning to the Royal...'

I got no further. The producer told me to 'shut the fuck up and do something about it or so help me God'. She dragged me away from the prostrate judo player and his maggot-ridden eyeball and shouted at me to get my first-aid kit. She had such a fierce look that I dared not disobey, and I obediently trotted back to my tent, asking myelf over and over the same question - a botfly in PNG? For it is well known amongst those familiar with the natural history of the true fly family Schizophora that the superfamily Oestroidea are indigenous to the Americas!

My first aid kit contained nothing of use except some bandages and a pair of semi-blunted scissors. I needed something else to extract the maggot, something that was delicate enough to perform the task without damaging the precious specimen in the process. Of course I had come equipped with just the thing - my dissection kit. Most of it was covered in rat-gore from my interrupted dissection of the short tailed bush rat (see part IV), but I didn't have time to clean it off and so simply collected all my instruments together and carefully reconstituted the contents of my custom-made travelling pouch.

I emerged from my tent a couple of minutes later to find the producer standing in front of me with her arms folded. She asked me what I had been doing for so long. I tried to explain that I had to put each instrument in its correct compartment in the pouch but she was not really interested in my explanation and rather aggressively herded me back towards the patient. On reaching him, I knelt down and unfolded the pouch. The onlookers gasped as I drew out a bloodied pair of tweezers. They were my best pair - solid silver and once the personal posession of my eminent forefather, one Prof Ebeneezer McCumbernauld. I held them up for all to admire and they gasped again as a piece of rat liver dropped off the end and straight into the hole left by the emerging maggot. 'Oops' I said quietly. (Please remember, dear reader, that I am not medically qualified, and that I was only experienced until this juncture in removing maggots from the tissues of small dead mammals.)

'I will now attempt to remove the botfly larva.' I announced. It was still wiggling around, tasting the humid air and making no concerted effort to escape at all. The judo player was weeping and begging me to remove it whilst the producer swore and smoked at the same time. Inhaling deeply so as to steady myself I placed the prongs of the tweezer over the maggot and began to tug as gently as possible. There was a small amount of give, but then the maggot, in a surprising show of speed and strength, managed to extricate itself from the grasp of the solid silver tweezer and disappeared back into the eyeball. 'Oops' I said quietly. The crowd gasped.

'Do not worry' I whispered. 'The larva must emerge as part of its natural life history. Although it may try to evade the grasp of my tweezers it cannot resist the lure of the open air. We just need to be patient.'

A generic botfly removal operation

'Use this Doc' said one of the crew. He had taken a scalpel from the pouch and was pointing it at me. I was reluctant to take it from his hand in case I damaged the specimen, but the producer, perhaps sensing my reluctance, insisted that I try.

Five minutes later, the maggot re-emerged. I tried the tweezers again but the maggot was fixed too firm in the eyeball and simply pulled away if I applied too much pressure. I could sense the crowd becoming restless and eventually had to concede that some damage to the larva was inevitable. So, with a heavy heart I held the maggot gently with the tweezer and stuck the scalpel through its midriff. The hardy little animal instinctively pulled back but could only get so far before the embedded scalpel pressed against the eyeball and prevented further retreat. Victory was at hand! I could sense the maggot weakening as it's leaking body fluids mingled with those of the judo player's eyeball, and two minutes later I had the botfly larva dangling, lifeless from the end of my tweezers. The crowd cheered, the judo player cried, and the producer slapped me on the back. 'Thank Christ for that... she cheered, smiling for the first time since the shoot. 'This is going to send the ratings rocketing. Did you get all that Chris?'

I turned around to see a tall man bending in my direction. He was holding a steady cam, which was currently pointed at my face. 'And......Cut!' shouted the producer.

Ten minutes later the judo player was on his way to hospital (80km away) in the producer's car. I was kept behind,at the producers insistence, to do a piece to camera . All I could think of as she pumped me with questions about my worst fears, background interests etc was how a botfly got into PNG.

So, dear reader, was this how I became a celebrity?

Nope. We still had a week to go and we were down to four celebs. What I didn't know then was what the producer had in store for yours truly. It was going to get a lot worse before it got better....

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

Monday, March 06, 2006

How I became a celebrity (Part IV)

If you have not done so already, please read parts I, II and III before this part.


I look back on the couple of weeks I spent on the set of Love Island Get me a Celebrity Extreme, or whatever it was called, with a profound mixture of sadness, bemusement, horror and befuddlement. It escapes reason why such a programme was ever commissioned. The court case barely scratched the surface, in my opinion, despite the 300 hours of testimony from former employees of the now defunct production company. Anyways, mine is not the place to ask why, but merely to report the facts, like a good scientist should. The following account contains scenes that some readers may find disturbing


Part IV - Emergency

So far I have avoided much mention of the celebrities, beyond a brief description of their attributes. It was clear to me why they were there, as their only interest seemed to be how much they were being 'paid to shit in this hellhole' as one of them put it. They didn't mix with anyone outside their circle when off camera, and when on camera gave the impression that they couldn't give two stuffed monkeys about what they were doing. The crew, ever more lairy, had started to goad the celebrities with small insults about their lives back in the UK. The only person to escape their teasing was the one-eyed ex Judo champion who could have probably tied most of them up in knots, despite his monocular vision.

The one I took the greatest dislike to was the miniature car salesman. He was proud of the fact that he was still selling parts of a fully- replicated 1950's Ford Mustang (1:16) model on the front of one of his magazines that began running four years ago. At a cost of £3.99 per weekly issue, anyone still collecting parts was now looking at a total cost of £829, with half the engine (another fourty parts) still to be supplied. He confided one night whilst drunk that several parts were made to be deliberately incompatible with the rest, and when put in place would cause stresses on certain other, deliberately weakend parts that would eventually make them snap after a moderate amount of handling. The idea was to switch production over to a new model immediately after issuing the last piece of the Ford Mustang, and then offer to repair the broken cars at a not-inconsiderable price. He reckoned that at least ten thousand people were going to have to fork out £100 each for the repair, and that no-one would refuse given the intial cost of ownership.

The other celebrities possessed little by way of personality. I almost liked the 1950's folk singer, whose career had come to a tragic end when her band were electrocuted on stage by faulty microphones (she was towelling herself down at the time when the surge passed through the equipment and the other five members were in the last bars of a harmonised vocal), but she did have the rather offputting habit of eating her own ear wax. The former wife of an MP was too washed up to make much sense, and the newsreader was too nervous to say or do anything useful. He spent most of his time swatting at insects, visible or not, and complaining that he had a fever, stomach ache, angina, arachnophobia, Reynauds disease and a spastic colon.

By day 12 I had almost permanently retreated from the set, preferring to leave them to their bickering and poisonous cliques. My collection of parasites from the local fauna was expanding very well - I had twelve morphologically distinct worms and several cysts preserved in formaldeyde for shipping back to the UK. In terms of the production itself I wasn't called on to do much, except swab and dress the occasional shallow flesh wound, hand out headache pills, advise on the safety of sleeping without a bednet etc. Except, that was, until day 14, when my skills at post-mortem dissection skills were called on in the most unusual and unfortunate of circumstances.

I was in the middle of excising the liver from a short tailed rat I had trapped earlier in the day when there was a sudden commotion from outside the tent. I heard the producer frantically calling my name and telling me to 'get my fucking ass out here now'. Annoyed at having to abort the dissection, I placed my instruments carefully to one side and wrapped the half disected rat in a muslin cloth. Emerging from my tent, I observed a small crowd of people gathered around a prostrate body, which I immediately recognised to be that of the former judo champion. He was writhing around on the ground and calling out for someone to 'get this fucking thing out of me' I then heard the producer shout 'Don't touch it - let the Doctor have a look'. She pointed at me and motioned me to come over. I complied, and the crowd drew to one side as I approached.

On the floor in front of me was the judo player, but he was clearly not in a relaxed state. His upper torso was bare, and covered in welts. His face was covered by his hands and he was groaning that he couldn't see a 'fucking' thing. I asked the crowd what was wrong, but they just pointed and said 'his eyes...look at his eyes' Bending down, I asked the judo player to remove his hands. At first he refused, but I started to prise at them until eventually he relented.

What greeted me was something I had never seen before, and that I hope I will never, ever see again.....

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

Sunday, March 05, 2006

How I became a celebrity (Part III)

At last, I have got round to penning the third installment of my rise to the status of celebrity parasitologist. If you haven't done so already, please read part I, and then part II to bring you up to date.


A fractious start

It began to dawn on me a couple of days into the shoot that this was not a high-cost production. Not only were the 'celebrities' about as well known as my father's chiropodist, but there were also no presenters. Instead, the commentary was to be dubbed into the final film back in the UK by an in-house commentator. The show was to be given the illusion of broadcast live through an interactive link back to the UK, where people could phone up and suggest penalties for celebrities who failed in their tasks. In reality, the penalties had all been decided in advance, and the phone calls were to be made locally by people in the production team (I can tell you all this now, despite the confidentiality clause in my contract, because the court case brought the information into the public domain. To avoid further casual embarassment, however, I will not mention either the production company nor the celebrities by their real names.)

My job, initially, was to provide on-site advice about potential health hazards in the jungle. My main concern was the abundant mosquito population, but I was also aware that a wide range of parasites lurked in the ground, local fauna and groundwater. I warned them about not coming into contact with the swamp, about cooking their food properly, about the need to sleep under bednets and so-forth. When the producer gave me a first-aid kit, it became clear that I was also to take on the role of 'camp doctor' as she had previously announced. On emptying the contents of the bag onto my bed, I realised that anything more serious than a graze would require rapid transit to the nearest medical facility, some fourty miles away.

Over the first few days nothing very much happened. Supplies of fauna to be used in the stunts were brought in from outside - mainly containers full of either maggots, cockroaches or fierce looking fish. Filming started on day 4 with the celebrities talking to camera about their 'greatest fears'. Not surprisingly, they centered on claustrophobic encounters with maggots, cockroaches or fierce looking fish. Most of the tasks given to the 'celebrities' were then designed to introduce the celebrities to their 'greatest fear' whilst performing some task designed to reward or penalise the group depending on success or failure. Many readers will be familiar with the concept from other reality jungle programmes, and I don't need to go into any more detail here.

The mosquitos were a constant problem, and I was minded to regularly slather myself in my home-made insect repellant. Everyone else used standard issue repellants that didn't seem very effective. We used a local lad to fetch last minute supplies like the repellant from the nearest village, 25 km due south. I also gave the runner a list of items for the medical cabinet, but after the third trip into town he simply never returned (it turned out that the producer had paid him in advance for the whole shoot. When he was later questioned, he claimed he did not understand the meaning of the word 'contract' and was therefore under no obligation to comply with the producers requests.) There were no mobile phone signals, and the satellite phone link was also down. By day 6 our contact with the outside world had fizzled out completely. The producer had already started drinking during the day to calm her nerves, and the 'celebrities' were constantly complaining of the heat, poor food, mosquitos, cramped living quarters and the lack of communication with the outside world. The crew were a lairy bunch, and the general atmosphere had begun to degenerate before even the frist task had been completed.

By day 8 we had only twenty minutes of unedited film in the can, the water supply was running low due to an undiscovered leak in the water-butt, one of the three generators had broken down, two of the crew were incapacitated due to gut problems, the producer was in a permanently foul mood and the celebrities were threatening to go on strike. Personally, however, I was in rude health and enjoying the feeling I always get when close to nature. There were many specimens to collect, and I found myself with an increasing amount of time available to examine the parasitic populations of several small mammals. If no-one else was going to have any fun, at least I could still practice my scientific skills under field conditions. I thought I might even get enough material for a report in a forthcoming issue of Parasites Weekly.

A happy few days for me then, though the winds of change were beginning to blow across the camp, and in the next few days things would start to go horribly, horribly wrong.....

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

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Mags, it turned out, was an Australian 'surfer chick' who had been sold the idea that Kilifi was a 'bonza' place for surfing by someone she met whilst in Cornwall. Without actually bothering to research the truth of this idea she had set off using a combination of trains, planes and automobiles to arrive in Kilifi town three months later and stony broke. My friend, who works with an NGO based in the town, had found her sitting on the side of the road and asked if she could help. The surfer explained her story and wanted to know where the surf was, because she hadn't seen any yet. My friend explained that the last time anyone had seen surf in Kilifi was thirty years ago during a freak weather patch. The problem, basically, was that Kilifi meets the ocean head on, by way of cliffs, and then there is the issue of a a large reef that breaks the waves way out to sea. So, instead of surfing, Mags had joined up with the local ex-pat sailing fraternity and was giving lessons to their children.

There was enough room for us all to stay comfortably. The main purpose of the weekend was just to relax on the beach after a hard weeks work in Entebbe. I of course did not rest completely. The house we were staying in was close to a creek which had several small beaches nestling along its length. Each morning I would wander down with my portable easel and paints, and bring to life some scene that had been playing in my mind. I will be exhibiting one or two pieces on the art pages when I scan them in and get them uploaded.

Ravel was dour and sour most of the weekend. I saw him writing three letters, and often he would ask me or Mags how to spell certain words that were outside his limited vocabulary. The letters themselves were full of pathos, longing, and raw feeling that could only have come from someone unused to the curtailed emotions of the British psyche.

On sunday morning Mags suggested we go for a swim across the creek. I readily agreed, as I felt like I had not achieved recently in terms of physical effort, even if my brain was working out on a regular basis. We wandered down to the beach once more and prepared to set off. On noticing Mags take a jar of brown liquid out of her bag and put in down near the water's edge, I enquired as to its purpose. But the reply was simply 'Last one to the other side is a bit fat bonzo' and then off she ran into the warm waters of the creek. I set off in hot pursuit, my competetive streak suddenly aroused.

She was quick, but my unique hyrid style of freestyle arms and breast-sroke legs was superior. I was in the lead when we reached the other side of the 200m wide creek. The rules were that we had to leave the water and touch the bottom step on the beach before swimming back. Having accomplished this task I raced back towards the water just as Mags left it. She must have run very fast though, as I had barely begun to swim before she plunged into the water and started to swim frantically. I kicked even harder and was just about to draw level with the sporty antipodean when I suddenly felt a sharp stinging sensation in my left underarm. The pain was acute and severe, and almost immediately I could hardly use my arm to propel myself. Mags surged ahead whilst I slowed to a crawl, and eventually to a halt, about three quarters of the way across the creek. The pain was intense. I watched Mags reach the other side before I began to faint from the pain. I could feel everything becoming heavy, my breathing becoming shallow, and it dawned on me as I began to slip down into the water that I was about to die. My life began to play itself in my mind, and for the first time in years I was acutely aware of my own mortality, even as it seemed it might be extinguished.

The next thing I remember is being hauled onto the beach by Mags. I managed to open my eyes and saw, though couldn't feel, that she was checking my pulse. Moments later, she had opened the jar of brown liquid and was pouring it over my underarm. The sharp smell of malt vinegar met my nose. Then, to my shock and horror, she pulled off her bathing shorts, straddled my upper body with her lady parts hovering over my arm pit and released a lenghty stream of urine! Having splashed the contents of her bladder she then picked me bodily up from the beach, carried me back up to the house and laid me on to the verandah. She tightly bandaged my arm, left the room and came back moments later holding a hyperdermic syringe. 'Antivenom' she shouted before plunging it into my arm. My scream must have been heard across the creek and halfway to Malindi....

'I never piss before a swim' she confided in me later that day as I recuperated in the bed of a local hospital. 'You never know when you might need some. I reckon my urine saved your life Crumbly. The jellyfish round here could drop a horse I've been told. Lucky for you I was there, eh?' I had to agree, though it did also occur to me that she might have warned me before we went into the water...

That unfortunate incident delayed our departure by a day, but we did leave eventually and it was a smooth journey back to the UK. Ravel managed to smile once or twice, (especially when I relived my ordeal), and by Thursday we were both back at work at the Cumbernauld Institute of Parasitology. Mrs Dr McCrumble was most relieved to see me home again, and made me promise never to go swimming in tropical ocean waters ever again. I was not about to argue!