Monday, July 09, 2007

Cars and kites and mud and sand

Somewhere in a field in Devon on Friday night, we met up with a bunch of other Plymouth-Dakar, London-Tashkent and T4 Challenge rally veterans.

I'm still churning from the chemo and the specially installed portaloos do not appeal. But my mistake of trying one of the generously provided (but too rich for my current constutional state) hog roast sandwiches means I am forced to stumble into these dark chambers and scrabble around, trying not to touch anything. It's a good thing I brought the extra anti-bacterial wash and an even better thing we are booked into a B&B down the road with a clean, safe loo of our very own.

The inevitable happens. Boys and old cars and an empty field. They take turns racing around the ruts and the mud, spinning donuts and horsing about. Oren rides on Tim's roof. Except it's not Tim's roof. Tim's sister has trustingly lent him her car for the weekend. Does she know what these weekends are like? My car keys are zipped safely into my pocket at all times. The suspension on the Peugeot has started creaking and the exhaust is already rusty. I do not need it to die in a field in Devon tonight.

Thankfully noone dies, no cars expire. Light fails and we resort to chocolate cake and cider and lighting bonfires. I ride a mini moto round the field. Very slowly. The teenager it belongs to goes embarrasingly faster on it. I think it's a weight thang...

It was a great evening but was followed by a dreadful night's sleep. Getting to bed at half twelve in our B&B, I realise once tucked up that my sleeping pills are on the floor of the passenger seat. It took me lying awake failing to sleep until after 3am to give in and go and fetch them. I tiptoed across the gravel drive of the B&B like a burglar, got my pills, only to return to the house and find the pig sandwich was not yet done with its revenge. Eventually I fell asleep around 4.30am.

The next day we head for the north coast to Saunton Sands. The kids, so called because of their youthfulness and great line in pranks and japes, have all sorts of toys with them. One is a stunt kite.

We spend the next four hours untangling lines and taking turn flying this thing. Or should I say, letting this thing fly us.

The power of the kite is amazing. I am scared but exhilarated - but have enough after a few goes (my shoulders still ache now) and leave the boys to it. The others surf, and eat ice cream, and we all get very sandy.

Later that night, back at the field, the 300 or so other entrants and veterans of this year's Plymouth-Dakar have turned up. Julian, our erstwhile Disorganiser, strolls around in a voluminous white bou-bou, the traditional dress worn by the Bedouin guides in Mauritania - a must rally souvenir for any self respecting veteran.

Others are wearing old russian army hats, sombreros, jellabas, matching team overalls, anything goes. Me in my tweed trilby, I suddenly feel quite normal.

Speeches are made and as veterans we're pounced upon by some fresh faced newbies. Everything wants to know what car to take, is it dangerous, what do you use to bribe people with? It's always the same questions and we try and pass on some common sense and encourage people not to assume that you need to bribe your way through Africa (although arguably there are times when it is easiest all round) but they will do it their way and each team will have to decide for themselves.

Then we collect our little group of vets and head back down to the tents for a showing of the film that Karl made from last winter's trip to Mali. Lots of memories. Including this one:

Our team was called Team Lionel Shapiro, in honour of an unsolicited (and eventually retracted) online complaint from someone of the same name. On the road to Timbuctou, Frankie stopped to chat with some local kids. The results are on the video. Jackass-style, the kids chant in time to her lead, their mouths feeling out the foreign syllables...

"My name is Lionel Shapiro, and this is the T4 Challenge."


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