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Contenders: you will go on my first whistle

February 7, 2009

As you hopefully all now know, I am away on my travels once again. This time the plan is to try and get from Huddersfield to Cape Town without flying, although there may be one or two small obstacles in central Africa that spoil the plan. I admit that it all seems a bit Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman, but there are a few fundamental differences. Whereas they used motorbikes I shall be sticking to public transport, as my lack of anything even remotely resembling coordination makes the former a bit of a silly idea. Rather than waste time on months of meticulous planning I am instead relying on a generally Panglossian Weltanshaung and grinning like a fool. And sadly the BBC have not given me suitcasefuls of cash to make a telly programme. Personally I think they have missed out on a sure fire hit. The storyboard for the pilot episode mainly consists of footage of me farting about on the internet whilst pretending to myself that I am doing thorough research, before some frenzied last minute rushing around doing the things that definitely do need doing (and the odd thing that doesn't). The finale involves me staying up until 3am the day before departure finishing off grouting the tiles in the bathroom.

So anyway, I finally left the shores of good old Blighty about two weeks ago. All was fairly relaxed as far as Paris, where I decided that I should set the bar high by taking an unpleasantly long journey right at the outset. With this in mind I took an overnight bus to Madrid, and, after a lovely four hour connection, continued on to Algeciras, on the south coast of Spain, a further nine hours away. There I also set a good marker for grubby flea-pit hotels. The place itself was not too bad, but the thing that made it stand out was the brightly coloured blocks of paradichlorobenzene that had been placed in the plug hole of the wash basin. I know that neither I nor any male reading this would ever use a sink for the purpose that their presence implies (but am not so sure about some of the females).

From Algeciras I took a day trip along the coast to Gibraltar, principally to go and make sure that the monkeyometer is properly calibrated. I'm not entirely sure that the Barbary Macaques that live there fully meet the regulations, as although they roam free they get fed every day, and were probably introduced (amittedly a couple of thousand years ago); but they were cheeky nonetheless. I also took the opportunity to have a long overdue haircut, reasoning that it would be better done in my mother tongue. Trust me to find the only hairdresser in Gibraltar that doesn't speak English. Luckily a waiting customer was able to act as an interpreter. Although the hair is now gone I have been unable to bring myself to have the silly moustache put down, and so rather than looking like a member of a '60s supergroup I now look like something from Ice Road Truckers. Or, at least in the eyes of the local stallholders here in Morocco, Ali Baba. Mind you, some of them don't seem to feel the need for anything so inventive and simply make do with shouting "Oi, moustache".

It was from the top of The Rock (sadly not named after the wrestling and silver screen legend, but more prosaically because it is a big rock) that I had my first glimpse of the North Coast of Africa. It all made me feel rather nervous, and the following tune started looping in my head:

The following morning I took the plunge and bought my ticket for the 1:30 express ferry to Tangiers, which turned out not to be the express and left at 2:30. I had got no further than the door of the ferry terminal when I had my first experience of being accompanied to my destination on the expectation of being paid a fee for this very welcome assistance. I am still learning to recognise the point at which the free conversation ends and the meter starts running. I'm not quite there yet, but it may not be too long before I decide to learn some of the more colourful phrases that the Arabic language has to offer. I have tried to pick up some more polite bits and pieces. Hello is Salaam al-aykum, to which the standard response is al-aykum salaam. I'm sure Bruce Forsyth would approve.

To be fair, I have also met lots of genuinely nice Moroccans. Someone even invited me round for a home cooked tajine. I momentarily stopped chewing when my host described the meat as "inside of shit", but luckily in transpired that he had meant sheep, and a bit of intestine never hurt anyone. After dinner we completed the authentic Morrocan experience by listening to the Gypsy Kings.

Next stop was Rabat, the capital, so that I could call in at the Mauritanian Embassy to sort out a visa. In a characteristic display of cunning and foresight I managed to do this on a Friday (when they close early), meaning that rather than have it all done and dusted in a day I instead found myself with an entire weekend to fill. What better way to do so than to go looking for monkeys?

It was for this reason that I found myself tramping through a snowy forest in the mountains above a town called Azrou. The monkeys there are the same species as those on Gibraltar, and, although some of them do get fed by tourists in summer, they generally have to fend for themselves. Anyway, I reckon that they are wild enough for the monkeyometer to have officially registered its first sighting. Chasing monkeys in the snow was all in all a bit of a bizarre experience. I imagine that Vernon Kay would be as surprised as I if when the audience survey were asked "where would you expect to find monkeys?" one of the top five responses given was "in the snow". That is if his daily quota of surprisedness is not used up in the first few minutes of each day when he remembers what he has acheived with such a finite amount of talent.

I am currently in Marrakesh, and am trying to summon the courage to begin the long journey south to Mauritania. It is raining. A Lot. As they say across the channel (and do please pardon my French) il pleut comme une vache qui pisse. Which is a bit like the famous Vache Qui Rit. Peut etre la viche pîsse par ce qu'elle rit? Ou peut etre elle rit par ce qu'elle pisse? I know I would.

I am being silly now, which means that I am probably tired, and must go to my bed. Goodnight and God bless, wherever you are.

Posted by jamesb at February 7, 2009 9:04 AM


Hi James

great to hear from you. I have just come back from Langkawi and am due to fly out there again on 16th Feb. to organise my grandaughter's first haircutting ceremony, similar to christenign but mre cultural than religious.

Let me know if you are going anywhere near Langkawi.

Nolia Devlin

one of your csutomers.

Posted by: nolia at February 9, 2009 11:57 AM

Hello James,
Although I have never seen it, my advice would be to loose the moustache... and quit molesting those monkeys.
Great to hear how you are doing though.

Posted by: Jo at February 10, 2009 3:53 AM

Hi James,
Excellent start to your journey. Keep it up

I reckon that if you keep grinning at strangers that you're going to be married with 3 wives, 2 goats and a camel by Easter - oddds are 5/1 bets anyone?

James, don't forget, if you get on the wrong boat NZ awaits.

Posted by: Matesha at February 10, 2009 8:33 AM

Oi! Moustache!

The first bit sounds EXACTLY like a BBC TV show, now you have to get pregnant half way there and get your planning permission application refused.

On a recent Family Fortunes the question was "we asked 100 people to name a food which made you break wind." Only three possible answers, and the combined score only added up to 98, so presumably 2 people didn't understand the question or spoiled their ballot cards or something.

Keep the updates (and the monkeynews) coming!

And drive safe.

Posted by: gareth at February 10, 2009 11:22 AM


Sounds like an amazing and very Brown like adventure. However I would have to disagree with Jo above, I say let the tache florish and molest as many monkey's as possible (although I think that where they say those haemorrhagic viruses are from Ebola, Lhassa fever etc..., still at least you are staying well clear of West Africa).

All the best Gaz, Kate & Tom

Posted by: Gareth at February 11, 2009 9:01 PM

Jim Bob Brown,
It's great to hear from you, although i dont really understand some of what you have said (perhaps you could add a short shazza translation for me). Anyways it sounds a fab trip so far i wish i could have the balls to do something like it. well keep safe oh and loose the tash.
all the best shazza.

Posted by: shazza at February 11, 2009 11:34 PM

Hey Jimbo,

All I can say is keep going and keep updating, cos I found it really good to read and rather funny...ha ha, can't wait to hear your next the next chapter on your mission to South Africa.

Good luck matie.
Susie x

Posted by: Susie at February 17, 2009 12:27 PM

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