Bongoman

 Paul Olding

 

 

Recent Inklings

 

If you like what you’re reading, please do contact me

 

 

A small selection of random Scribbles

 

Contents:

1. Kenya

2. Leipzig

3. Gibraltar

4. Trip to the Barber

5. Dave and the Mouse

6. Baftas

7. Las Vegas Vow Renewal

 

 

Kenya

 

The Great Rift Valley has a wonderful sense of adventure about it. Its not just the ‘Out of Africa’ backdrop with wide open plains, sporadic acacia and the wildlife, it’s the knowledge that this is the place where man began. I had been driven 2 hours south west of Nairobi to a place a place called Olorgessailie where I was to rendez vous with American palaeontologist Rick Potts. This was his manor, a place he had worked every summer for 25 years, taking up from where the Leakey’s had left back in the 80s. I was here to see evidence of early humans, and unlike many archaeological sites, the evidence lay strewn about everywhere you looked.

 

The site bore a set of huts called Bandas in which I would spend the night, plus a small hut designated as a museum with a few bits on show. But the prize displays were outside. Following the fenced in chicken wire clad pathways, I was led to piles of stone tools hand crafted by Homo Erectus some 800000 years ago. At every turn were round cobbles, large pointed hand axes, and sharp slithers of rock. It was like stepping into a stone age B&Q, with row upon row of Neolithic toolkits. Rick explained that this indeed was the place the early humans in the area would come to make their tools. There was very little evidence of butchery going on here, more a tool workshop where tools were fashioned as and when they were needed and then food taken home to the hills for consumption.

 

At nightfall I phoned home, intrigued that I had a much stronger signal here in the African bush than I can ever get in Blackheath. With a billion stars gazing down on me, I shared my days’ exploits with the family. Here I was using a tool of incredible complexity, surrounded by tools that in their own time and for hundreds of thousands of years more were the pinnacle of human achievement. My son Evan was most excited that I had seen a stick insect. The toilet facilities were basic. I am always wary of going to such a toilet at night, for bearing a headtorch, there is the scant chance you might glance into the hole and catch a glimpse of what is actually down there. Better not to know. The shower was a big barrel of water with a sprinkler at the bottom. Very refreshing.

 

A short drive into the bush and Rick led me off down a dried up river bed. He was keen to show me a place they had uncovered just last year which he called ‘the quarry’. The ground underfoot was very dusty, but more chalky in appearance rather than typical soil. Rick explained that the chalk was actually the remains of billions of ancient single celled alga’s, as this whole area (at various times in the last million years) had been freshwater lakes. The lakes had come and gone with the changing climate, and all this could be told from the microscopic remains of the algae in the dust. Turning a corner we came to an exposed flat. Sitting down (at his insistence), Rick revealed that I was now sitting where a homo erectus had sat possibly up to a million years ago and  made his tool kit from the surrounding rock. I could see the marks where my distant ancestor/cousin had worked on the rocks, bashing off thin sharp flakes and making his hand axes. My bum cheeks and his were connected through a million years of time.

 

 

 

 

Leipzig

 

So I found myself at gone 11pm walking the streets of Berlin. The Easyjet flight had been uneventful. I had scribbled some thoughts as to two further scenes for the film which I was hoping to write, organise and shoot just over a week from now. On landing, I toyed with the notion of getting the cheap train into town, but it was freezing and I wasn’t entirely sure where to go, what ticket to buy and what train to get, so I took the easy (yet expensive) option and got a taxi. The large moustachioed taxi driver did not at first recognise my destination address (vocalised by me), but donning his reading glasses, he read my call sheet and with great gusto corrected my pronunciation of the street upon which my Best Western lay, and we sped off.

 

Having been to Berlin before, I had asked for accommodation in the area I recalled being the cool Bohemian sector. Sadly I got a perfectly decent hotel room in what appeared to be a cold desolate ghost town. Tomorrow I was to get a train to Leipzig. I decided to pre-empt getting lost trying to find the train station, and acquiring a map from the unsmiling concierge / desk boy, I wandered out into the cold.

 

Apparently it was at least minus 6C. It was very strange as there was a thick fog hugging the ground, and from it ice crystals were falling all around. It was almost magical, in a sort of industrial and freezing magical way. There wasn’t a soul anywhere and the few eateries which I saw were long shut. The walk to the station was very easy and I didn’t get lost, though I did pass what appeared to be an imported sandy beach boasting DJs and beach parties (though I imagine not this time of the year). The train station (what I believe is Berlin’s central station) was massive, a sprawl of glass and steel with clever revolving doors and escalators that slowed to a snails pace when not in use, but sped up again as you approached them. Inside I encountered a few people as it appeared from the boards that there were some trains running all night. Happy that I had located the station and better still, that I had been able to read the timetable which also gave me the platform for my specific train (wonderful German efficiency), I headed back to my hotel.

 

The Tv had virtually all German channels but I did come across what hailed itself as a ‘sports channel’, and there before me was something I had never seen. It was an American programme called ‘Girls Gone Wild’, and was basically teams of girls competing against each other with very little (if any) clothes on. Curious, the competitions included simulating sex with each other (assorted positions shouted out by the dwarf referee) whilst on a revolving platform - the pink team were doing so well until the platform spun into action and flung them off. In the end it was (I believe, though I’m not sure) the blue team that won, completing a sort of obstacle course just seconds ahead of the pink team (who I had been rooting for). I say ‘I believe’ because at this juncture, neither members of each team had any coloured clothing on at all. And so to bed.

 

Up ludicrously early to get the train to Leipzig. Sadly breakfast was to be served much later, but due to the continuing saga of my stomach ‘issues’ (since returning back from Kenya), I hadn’t intended to eat a whole lot. To the station and onto the train. I thought I was going to get one of the double decker ones, but alas, it was an intercity. Out of Berlin and we rapidly entered a winter wonderland, with the vista dusted in a thin blanket of snow. I noticed that every now and then there appeared to be a set of what looked like allotments. These were patches of land bearing an assortment of small sheds. On closer inspection, the ‘sheds’ were in fact much more substantial brick built mini chalets, and I couldn’t see any evidence of any sort of growing. I rapidly came to the conclusion these must be little getaway places, but only to get slightly away.

 

To Leipzig and a bitter chill. A TV screen flashed up the temperature at minus 8C! I had a bit of time to kill so looked around what revealed itself to be quite an extensive shopping mall. Despite my dodgy stomach, I thought a hot chocolate was on the cards, it being only milk and sugar. After a sit down in the warmth, I did have to make a dash to the toilets (via a patisserie to get a Euro coin change – the pain au chocolat was to remain uneaten and deposited in the bin back at Gatwick). With no map, I got a taxi to my destination, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

 

Having been shown around and had a quick primer in evolutionary genetics from a German/American PhD student, I met the head man and grilled him about what it was he does and why and tried desperately to try and frame their work within the needs of the story we were trying to tell. I also got to see their vast selection of bones. Avoiding lunch, I said my farewells and decided to have a walk into town to see where I might get a set of shots to establish ‘Leipzig’ in the quickest easiest way. Wrapping up against the extraordinary cold, I headed up the street 18th October.

 

22 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany and it is cracking that you can still walk down Soviet block streets. Obviously they weren’t going to knock down all the proletariat blocks of  flats, and so they still stand, as a reminder that for 40 years, I would have been standing in Soviet run East Germany. Maybe it was their starkness or their imposing symmetry, but I found these blocks to be quite beautiful. In the distance other beacons to Soviet might loomed large, standing sentinel over the city. Not sure what these buildings were, but they certainly had style. The only eyesore was the new shiny panorama building which had very little style and just looked like unsightly bling in amongst its classier neighbours.

 

Walking through town, I was in search of something to take home. Never shy of seeking out ‘les souvenirs’ (or their German equivalent), I was having trouble. I was told that German biscuits might be fun for my sons, and at last I found some, not in a wonderful sweet smelling patisserie and bakers (of which there were many), but in the equivalent of a pound shop. I also managed to secure two novelty rubber ducks. Back to the station to get the train back to Berlin. At Berlin station another first for me – white hot chocolate (very tasty). Then I decided to push the boat out and get the airport express train. All very easy it turns out and for a tenth of the taxi fare. Plus this time it was a double decker train and I got to ride up top.

 

 

 

 

Gibraltar

 

Heading out from the marina on a bright yellow dive-cum-dolphin sporting boat, I was en route to a date in history. Armed with a film crew, presenter and local paleontologist, we were motoring round to the east side of Gibraltar, to a hole in the cliff face called Gorham’s cave. The day before we had flown in from London and gone straight out in the hope of making a landing. But the sea, although calm, had a slight swell, making it dangerous for us to safely leap from the small dingy transporting us from mothership to land. This morning all was calm and as the sun rose on the grey limestone rock of Gibraltar, it looked like we were in luck.

 

Gibraltar is a very peculiar place. I had been here once before in January 2000 on a jolly with the later to be Mrs O. As expected, the Millennium bug had not sent our plane careering out of the sky and on landing we had been told that Torremelenos would be our holiday destination. Gibraltar had been one of our outings. With the borders to Spain closed (on their side) for many years (out of spite more than anything else), I think it was only in the late 80s or early 90s that they had been reopened so that you could just walk across. The English colony is a peculiar mix of modern England (boasting the likes of M&S and Morrison’s), navy encrusted colonial England, and deadend Spanish backwater. Although steeped in English naval history, it looked to me more like the aforementioned Torremolenous than anything else, with high rise ugly concrete apartment blocks and plastic bags whipping around on the wind. Trying to find any sort of decent food was a challenge, with nary a Spanish tapas bar in site, just assorted English pubs, English taverns, and English eateries that often frequent the assorted Costas.

 

We were staying in the rather grand The Rock hotel. The whiff of art deco from the outside was soon lost on entering, but it maintained a certain level of colonial charm. From the black and white photos on the walls, this hotel had certainly seen some action, at least back in the 50s and 60s, but now it looked not so much a little tired, but trying to cling on to what it had. The menu reflected this bearing the most ridiculous names for what was otherwise quite bland food. The view out to sea could have been wonderful peering over the tops of the exotic trees of the botanic garden .But sadly all you see is the ugly port, ugly massive tankers at anchor and then on the Spanish mainland, a massive and stinky oil refinery, built there I can only assume again out of spite.

 

Over the course of the weekend, I saw pretty much everything the peninsular outpost had to offer. Gibraltar once played a pivotal role in WW2, but all the ugly concrete they poured everywhere to facilitate the campaigns (from gun placements, to landing areas, to lookout posts) has just been left to very very slowly rot away. Everywhere you look are slabs of concrete and rusting steel. There is a huge military presence with assorted barracks and enclaves and I suppose to the military, making things look pretty is a waste of their time and resources. The rock also has miles of tunnels excavated during the war effort with barracks and hospitals and control rooms all deep within the limestone (like what they have at Dover). These are (apparently) still used to train our soldiers before they head off to Afghanistan. But to casual viewer, they are just ugly pock marks in what really is an ugly landscape.

 

As we failed to make the cave on the first day, I decided to film up on the top of the rock as the sun was setting. Our driver was rather reticent saying that large buses were not allowed up there. I suggested he get a small one then, at which point he looked round and with a wild glint in his eye he laughed, said he hoped we were insured and floored it. Finding nice views was much harder than I anticipated. I think it was a combination of geology with the sheer sides of the rock, and the ugly rotting fortifications that made finding a place with assorted pretty angles hard work. We eventually found a place at the very top (which was lucky as there was nowhere else to go except back down). This is one of the places the Barbary macaques live. As with all monkeys, the babies were incredibly cute and the older animals had huge teeth and could possibly rip your arm off. Just as with the ravens of the tower of London, Winston Churchill took it upon himself to declare that if the rock lost its monkeys, then it would fall, and so he actually imported animals to make sure there was a viable population.

 

Back on the boat the following morning, as the sun gained in strength over the Med, we sat outside the cave, assessing if we could get in. We were here as this is prime Neanderthal country and we were trying to answer the question why did we survive and they die out. 30,000 years ago, the level of the sea was much lower than it was today and these caves would have been penthouse suites, surrounded by a wide wetland savannah. Nowadays with the sa lashing at their entrance, there is a perfectly good staircase cut into the rock that leads down to the caves. But the MOD have decided that it poses a risk to those scientists and film crews that may want to use it and so bar access, hence the boat and the precarious nature of us trying to leap onto the rocks from a small bobbing dingy.

 

With the sea very calm this morning, we were finally able to make landfall. Led by the local paleontologist, we headed into the cave. Bathed in the golden morning light, the wide entrance to the cave was lit up with a warm orange glow. Our man in the know, Clive, immediately started showing us the evidences of ancient habitation in the rocky sediments by the entrance. Here was marine seashells dating back to the time of the Neanderthals, in a location that only they could have dropped them (as opposed to them just being washed up). The inference here is that what were previously assumed  to be mammoth eating ambush hunters actually had a much wider diet and were partial to a bit of shellfish which they could collect a stones throw from their cave. Clive also showed us tools and animal bones he had found in the cave, revealing that here lived a group of humans who ate everything from dolphin and seal to Hyena, and they were using wonderfully intricate tools to butcher the meat very similar to what modern humans were using elsewhere. Casting a glance over my shoulder, you could just imagine these humans waking up to the morning sunrise, looking out of their prime real estate and getting breakfast ready.

 

Mounting the rusty scaffold ladders that they use during their archaeological digs, we climbed up to a second level and headed further into the cave. The penetrating sunlight still illuminated the high ceilings, but now we were very venturing into the dark. 200m in, at the very back, Clive showed us where they had excavated a campfire, dating the charcoal to around 28000 years. This is the very last date the Neanderthals had existed anywhere on our planet. So here we were sat in the place where the last of the Neanderthals lived. I had a bit of a ‘moment’ sat there in the gloom. To think this was where our cousins made their last stand and their line of humanity ended.

 

 

 

 

Trip to the Barber

 

It’s been some time since I went to the barber. Its not that I’m a long haired hippy type, its just that I have been on an economy and temporal (money and time) efficiency drive for a couple of years as far as hair goes. I employ the haircutting talents of Mrs Olding to cut my hair to the best of her ability with a home haircut kit. This has oft resulted in a partial lobotomy look or even the occasional hair horns (chunks of hair that lie flat during the cutting process, but then erect following a hair wash), but seeing as that makes me look unhinged and can keep people at a distance affording me a little more personal space, its not something that has overly bothered me.

 

Working from home one day and feeling the weight of a full head of hair and tickling beard, I decided that today I would venture out to seek a cut (so long as there was no queue) at my old barber shop. Many years back it used to be called Chris’s barber shop. I always thought this was named in some way in recognition of the trad jazz legend Chris barber (who often played with Mr Acker Bilk). Or it may of course have just been called that as it was run by a barber called Chris. Some time ago, Chris had moved on, to be replaced by Gary, a chap of oriental decent who brought with him some unique techniques for coiffing the male barnet to which I will return to later.

 

Hairdressers and barbers have always places that have generally annoyed me, hence the decision to go DIY. I had always found them to be very busy just at the moment I had decided to go get a hair cut, and busy with people who quite clearly did not need a haircut. I entering the said emporia, the barber would always be hard at work on a short haired gent, and sat int eh waiting chairs would be 4 other (often elderly) gents all with short hair wanting a haircut. I’d be the only one there who seemed in dire need of a cut, and always thought I should be triaged (like in emergency departments), as my need was considerably greater than others in front of me.

 

Today though, there was no queue and I wandered straight in, Gary and I needed just a nod of acknowledgement and I was sat in the chair in seconds, approned and ready. With the years of DIY cutting, I had forgotten just how nice it is to be attended to by a professional. Cutting hair at home was not something me and Mrs O enjoy as a fun social pastime. It is an inconvenience to both of us. The instructions that came with the home kit suggested the clippers could be easily used to give yourself a haircut, but I felt this was anatomically impossible, hence the need for assistance. Back in the chair, Gary asked what I wanted, and I mumbled something about wanting my hair to be short, but not so it went spiky. It needed to look smart and short but without the need to use any ‘product’. Product is something I don’t think I have used since I was about 15 and that is the way it was to stay. And so it began.

 

The haircut itself was uneventful, but actually rather enjoyable. When I’ve been home cut, there is no mirror, and so I can only see how good or bad the cut has been once it was finished and I stare into the bathroom mirror. Here of course, in a professional barbershop, the large mirrors kept me fully updated in real time. Now as I said, Gary offers some additional extras for the discerning customer. Before you run away with ideas of an unnecessary nature, let me just add that the additional extras occur all above shoulder level. To get the edging of a man’s hair just right, Gary employs an old skool cut throat razor. Then once the haircut itself is completed, there is a fabulous ritual whereby he dips a sort of wick into some sort of oil, sparks it up ad then deftly thrusts the blue flame (like some mystical Kung Fu sorcerer)  into your ears to scorch off any unpleasant ear hairs. Reaching for a different oil, he then provides a brief (but delightful) scalp massage. Finally, and this caught me off guard when I first went some years ago, he offers to ‘click’ your neck. He’s done this to me before and although the feeling is quite pleasant (after the clicking), today I passed on the experience.

 

 

 

 

David and the Mouse

 

Our cat David will often bring in mice. He's very careful not to hurt them at the point of initial capture. We know he has something as he does his usual welcoming "I'm here" meow, but it comes out slightly muted as he is carrying a prize carefully in his mouth. As with our children, we shower praise on Dave for being such a clever cat, but being animal lovers we then try to rescue said mouse prize and return the creature back out to the garden. This has met with varied success.

 

So to Monday night. The catflap rattled as our ninja feline slunk in. He called out a muffled "I'm here and I've got something to play with" meow. We tore ourselves away from Have I got News for you to see what he had (it’s usually a mouse, but there have been rare occasions in the past when it has been a squirrel or even a pigeon) and with a "well done David aren't you a clever cat" we hatched a rescue plan to save his prey. It’s at this point, once he has brought the mouse in, that the real purpose of David's mouse hunt comes into action. He is not a hungry cat and we feed him the regulated amount of science diet. He just likes to play with his food. What usually happens next is that he lets go of his mouse and then proceeds to pounce, flick, jab and generally fling about his hyperventilating living toy. If he gets an inclination that we are about to intervene, he will often take his wide eyed toy back out into the garden, have a few hours crazed pleasure to then leave us the mouse's head and possibly spleen on the front door mat as a present some hours later.

 

So it was that at this point in the evening’s entertainment that Dave let the mouse go ready to chase, and the mouse made a quick escape to hide in the row of shows underneath our telephone stand. Losing sight of his prey, David then backed off and stared into the assorted footwear, waiting for his prey to make a move and give away his hiding place. It was also at this time that we stepped in to try and rescue the mouse. David may have incredible hunting instincts, but the brain size difference between us and him allows us to step back and look at the bigger picture. And so it was that I spotted said mouse hiding within the toe region of some strappy sandals. From experience I now know that even during a rescue, mice are oft given to biting, and so with hand inserted in sock, I lent in to scoop him up to safety. That is until he legged it. Dave was still poking around my green stained trousers (green from a recent mowing session) moving on to the scuffed black school shoes. As it was after the boys bath time, I was dressed in pyjamas. Rarely are we dressed in anything else beyond 7. Kneeling down and trying to locate the elusive mouse, I caught sight of the timid rodent, when he suddenly legged it out of the shoe store, and up my trouser leg.

 

This was an altogether different way of helping him to safety, but one I could just about accommodate. Notifying Mrs O of the whereabouts of the mouse and my daring plan to walk him to safety carefully sealed in my trouser leg, I wrapped y hand round the base of the pyjama and carefully stood up. The moue then scuttled right up my leg. With a girlish squeal I feared for the safety of my manbits and according to Mrs O now unable t catch her breath for laughing so hard, I performed a unique animated dance accompanied by a face of horror. Luckily, the mouse bypassed my crotch and headed straight up my back. Hurrying to the back door, the mouse now racing back and forth across my shoulders, I managed to carry the rodent out the back door. Kneeling down, I then tried to encourage the racing rodent to exit from under my shirt. After some minutes, the mouse finally made his exit through my left sleeve hole and scurried off into the night. It took another 20mins for Mrs O to stop laughing.

 

 

 

 

Bafta

 

To the Bafta nominees party at Coutts bank on the strand. Straight up the escalator to their atrium and greeted by Tattinger Champagne. All very exciting as my first invite to such affairs. This was a soiree for both the craft awards (or as some people like to say, for people who work 'behind the scenes', if 'behind the scenes' they mean the people that write direct, produce and actually make the films) and the more glamorous (and televised) TV awards, and so there was promise that ‘stars’ would be out sparkling. There were paps at the door (who I walked by unhindered), and there were paps inside standing next to a whopping Bafta poster (I wasn’t asked to pose) but very few stars. The wine flowed freely as the canapés were brought round (very tasty) and hotel chocolat were on hand giving out fabulous chocs. I wasn't alone this evening in that a small posse of people involved with wonders of the solar system  had managed to get nominated. I quickly found them and we chatted. But I was keen to mix with the actors and the like, but where were they? Then in the corner of the room I noticed Stephen Manghan (host for the craft awards) striding purposefully through a portal draped in thick velvet curtains. What's that I asked. Turns out it was the VIP lounge. Well blow me. So here we were a set of nominees up for the biggest awards on TV, and we were being segregated based on a celeb/non celeb class system. Actors and the like got whisked off for their own private party away from us mere nominees. Heaven forbid we be treated equally. And so it was that amongst Bafta nominees, celebs are treated better-er. It’s funny that as second class Bafta nominees, it still falls to us to give these actors the words they speak, the hair and make up they wear, the direction they need and the money they demand to be on TV.

 

 

 

 

Las Vegas Vow Renewal

 

The classic white stretch limo picked us up from the entrance to the vast Pyramid shaped hotel that is the Luxor and delivered us in considerable comfort to the chapel located in downtown. I say 'chapel', from the outside it was more a single story box adjacent to a bank and opposite an attorney's office, but entering, we went through one of those often experienced Vegas experiences of going inside but feeling like you're going outside, sort of. You see this was the garden chapel and it was here we were to renew our wedding vows as a celebration of 10 years of marriage.

 

We were introduced to our minister who looked like a smaller and less angrier version of Ian Paisley. He asked if we'd like God involved and we said yes. The organising lady then presented Andrea with a complimentary garter and took her off to the bridal suite for some photos whilst I, Ma and the boys waited in their waiting area. The chapel had a live, real-time web link where people could log on and watch proceedings over the interweb. We had already sent out the online coordinates in case people wanted to watch, so as the chapel were running a little late, Huw took it upon himself to announce to

the world that if anyone had just tuned in, we were running a few mins late but to keep watching.

 

And so with Dean Martin singing Moon river, and me and Ma standing at the 'alter', the service began. Evan entered depositing petals as he went (a mere $45 dollars add on to our package), then Huw bounded in bearing the ring (something Andrea has wanted for sometime and purchased from the lovely Mr Hirsch of Burlington Arcade), and finally Andrea walked up the aisle, a 1950s style stunner complete with beehive hairdo that had been created some hours earlier by Eileen back in the pyramid. Mum kicked it all off with a reading, speaking in a voice not unlike the Queen. Then the minister took us through the renewing of vows, first the vows he had, then we read our own vows from 10 years ago. We were then invited to light the unity candle, something Andrea had been most looking forward to. Basically you each take a separate lit candle and together you light a central significantly bigger candle. Then it gets whipped away, packaged up and given to you after the service in your wedding goody bag. It sounds a little fromage and it was, but on the scale of a nice cheddar not a stinky camerbert.

 

We had thought long and hard about our Vegas wedding. Initial thoughts were of Elvis or even King Arthur or Frank Sinatra being involved. We wanted the razzle dazzle, the comedic value and a Vegas feel, but in the end we decided that although fun was high on the agenda, there really was no point in making the whole thing too silly, particularly the important bits. So we moulded our vow renewal to be 'classy Vegas'. Andrea was in a white wedding dress adorned by the aforementioned fabulous beehive and tiara combo. I stood in a vintage 1950s tuxedo and frilly shirt (located after some time of looking in back street in Covent Garden). We tried to be as authentic 1950s as possible. The boys were very smart in white linen suits and Hawaiian shirts and Ma gave the dress she had worn to our original wedding a second outing.

 

As we raced through our vow renewal (they run a busy shop and we had already seen the next bridal party arrive), the minister drew the service to a close. With a twinkle in his eye, and no sense of irony, he summed up the proceedings with words made even more poignant given the world's high divorce rate. "By the power vested in me, by the state of Nevada, I now pronounce you, still, married." 

 

 

 

All words copyright Paul Olding 2011

No part can be published without prior permission