In yesterday’s blog, comedy critic Kate Copstick touched on corruption in Africa when she talked about potential problems her Mama Biashara charity faced in Kenya.
Mad inventor John Ward tells me he had a strange meeting several years ago in Northamptonshire. He is, perhaps more accurately described as an eccentric creator of bizarre contraptions. The strange things he can do with his hands do not bear too much thinking about.
Because he occasionally appears in newspaper articles and TV items, he sometimes gets cold calls from people who have tracked him down.
“I had a phone call a while ago from a bod from some wonderful sounding mob,” he told me yesterday. “The bod said they did fund raising for Africa. After a long phone call, I arranged to meet him for lunch in Northampton.
“I was curious, so I dialled 1471 to check his telephone number. But it was a ‘number withheld’ jobby… This could be a wind-up, I thought, but I needed to go shopping in Northampton anyway.
“So I met him as arranged outside the main shopping centre in town, close to the market, and we wandered off to a nearby eaterie. He was the usual charity-type bod wearing the standard issue slack, ill-fitting – or somebody else’s – suit with a shirt collar size about eight times what he really took and he had a very ‘wet fish’ handshake that reminded me how strong our pet rabbit was.
“The idea, it turned out, was to get me to go to a part of Africa where the locals were building things like sheds and wells… but they lacked the skills to build them in such a way that they would be still standing/workable weeks or hopefully, years on.
“Why me? I enquired.
“He then produced from his briefcase a claw hammer and put it on the table, much to the surprise of some punters sitting at other tables near us.
“I made a mental note not to order bread rolls in this eaterie if this was what you needed to cope with them.
“I told him I had got a similar one and I was in no hurry to buy another just yet, thank you very much.
“He said: You are looking at a £1,275 hammer.
“Is it made of solid gold? I asked.
“No, he said, It is just a normal standard Stanley hammer.
“He told me that money was raised by his group in the UK and was sent out to the Colonies and assorted equipment was bought with the money. But, on close inspection of the paperwork, it had turned out the cost of buying one hammer had been £1,275.
“Corrupt elements were syphoning off the loot and BMW and Mercedes were maybe on overtime to meet the demand from officials for their products over there.
“He told me the British fund raisers did not want to ‘make a fuss’ about it.
“So why do you want to talk to me? I asked.
“He explained that one way around the local mafia getting their hands on the folding stuff was to send people out with an eye for building and with money that they had themselves.
“He said he had seen some of my ‘stuff’ and felt that, even though I was not a trades person as such – as in bricklayer, carpenter etc – he realised I could think on my feet and felt that was what was really wanted… I would get results.
“I had a reasonable meal with him which did not involve bread rolls and use of the claw hammer but I pointed out I was not all that interested as they wanted me to be away for about six months. The financial side was not that bad, I have to say, but six months of my life? – As I was not that passionate about the ’cause’, it was a No-No in my book.
“After about an hour or so, we shook hands and parted.
“On the way home, I realised that the business card he was going to give me had not materialised, so I did not know exactly who or what he represented other than the stuff he told me vaguely about the ‘fund raisers’ in general.
“I suspect that it was somehow connected with HMG.
“It is all,” said John Ward, “part of life’s rich pastry.”