(Parts of this piece were published on the Indian news site WSN)
Last night, I went to the recording of tonight’s edition of TV show Have I Got News For You.
Such are the strange times that Margaret Thatcher created and which we live in, that this BBC TV show is recorded in the ITV studios on London’s South Bank. I used to work there when it was London Weekend Television.
Given that the recording for the half hour show lasted over two hours, I do not envy the editor.
One of the guests on Have I Got News For You was former London Mayor ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone – a late replacement, it seemed, for a Conservative politician who did not fancy being on a show that was likely to make many a mention of Margaret Thatcher’s death this week.
I would guess one of the bits likely to be cut out of the show (for length reasons) is a reference to the empty fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Ken Livingstone said he had been told when he was London Mayor that he could not put anything permanent on it because it was reserved for a statue of the Queen, to be erected after her death. But, said Ken, he had been told not to tell this to anyone.
After the recording, my eternally-un-named friend and I had a drink in a pub opposite the ITV studios with comedian Bob Slayer and Pull The Other One club owner Vivienne Soan.
It was a pleasant – if lengthy – evening in London in a warm television studio and a rather over-priced pub glittering with lights.
Mama Biashara helps poor people in Kenya set up their own small businesses which may give them a lift to a better life; it also gives health aid.
She gets no money of any kind from the charity, takes no expenses and, when she is there, she lives in the slums of Nairobi.
These are extracts from Copstick’s diary this week:
British Airways check-in at Heathrow are delightful – even when I spill condoms and bleach tablets, bottles of kiddy vitamins, cod liver oil and multivitamins (thank you once again HTC) all over the concourse in an effort to reduce my ridiculously overweight bag to being merely overweight.
When I reach Nairobi, it is flooded. It is pouring with rain; there are great lakes of water everywhere.
My tiny slum palace awaits but, as it is late, we cannot take the shortcut through the carwash and I have to heave my bags through flooded and muddy pitch dark compounds. There is a massive blackout across Corner – fairly usual when it rains like this.
I only have one candle, so I save unpacking till morning.
The cats have come to greet me and stay the night. Which is sweet except when the kitten is sick under my bed.
The cats have shared my bedspace and, in return, have allowed their fleas to bite me into a flurry of little red itches.
It is a national holiday.
We tour around the deserted city centre looking for a Forex foreign exchange shop to change some money. We eventually find one. The exchange rate is dire. But I have no choice.
Everywhere – on radios, in cars, on phones – is the relay of the swearing-in ceremony. Everyone is listening.
Various African Presidents speak. The outgoing President speaks,.William Ruto speaks… The Kikuyu are delighted.
“So you have a war criminal for a president,” I observe.
“What if he is found guilty at The Hague?” I ask.
“There is no Hague,” they reply. “We do not recognise the Hague,” they say. “When The Hague indicts George Bush we will recognise it,” they say.
You cannot fault the logic.
“And Tony Blair…” I offer. “And Tony Blair.”
I suppose that, even if Kenyatta and Ruto are guilty, they kept out of other people’s countries.
Mama Biashara has a new fundraiser in my cousin Gus, an excellent bloke who runs up and down mountains for fun. He is approaching some trusts and, if they are to make with the dosh, it will have to be for something more grown-up-sounding than ageing Scots loony woman runs around the nasty bits of Kenya setting up odd businesses in unlikely places and mopping up pus.
Doris’s mum has just died of cancer of the absolutely everything. As Doris talks, I learn that, just to be admitted into an oncology ward in Kenyatta Hospital (a government hospital), you have to pay a deposit (on admission) of 45,000ksh – around £400. As a basic payment. To which the cost of medication etc is added. Per week. To die. After which you have to pay Mortuary Fees while they store your body as your desperate relatives try to find a way of paying the hospital bill. This in a country where labouring pays £2 per day of hard graft and even a decent office job pays about £90 a month.
Doris has lined up a group of 190 refugee women, forced out of Kisumu in the aftermath of the election, to get the Mama Biashara treatment. They are Kikuyu in a Luo area. And the Luo are pretty pissed off at the result of the election.
The plan is to dig and stock three fish ponds for the refugee women to farm fish (it is the only business they know) on a piece of land they have been offered rent-free for ten years. 190 women is a serious project.
Jayne calls from Awendo to remind me the children have malaria, everyone needs shoes and the growth in Pamela’s anus is still there.
Now Felista arrives. She has become something of a national celebrity since appearing on TV when a man was killed by dogs outside DECIP, a children’s home which caters for children who are orphans, homeless and destitute.
The circumstances are typically murky and the Kenyan propensity for (a) turning a crisis into a massive drama and (b) gossiping the most massive amount of rubbish with endless enthusiasm means that no-one will ever know.
Felista says one dog nipped the man’s leg and then he died. The papers said that a “pack of rabid dogs” had attacked him and eaten his leg off. A mob of locals had descended on DECIP threatening to set fire to the place. And they would too. I have seen the Kenyan mob in action and it is fairly scary.
Felista got (and Mama Biashara paid for) an armed police guard until the hoo-ha died down a little.
Meanwhile, a second mob came to stone the dogs (any dogs, really) to death. The local authorities got in first and put the dogs down but the mob got in and stoned them anyway.
I awake to find I have an arse like Doris’s. OK not quite. But it seems that, despite my dangling little insect-abattoir strips about the room, the mosquitoes have been in and had themselves a party on my ass. It ain’t pretty. Scratching uncontrollably, I head to the bank and withdraw a wedge and a half.
I meet Doris and we head out to Kenool for a little workshop. I have a gift for Doris but it has suffered an unfortunate tragedy. As British Airways are not as generous as Virgin when it comes to excess baggage, I use my two allowed free bags on the way back when I bring a mountain of stuff. This leaves me with two bags on the way out and you would not believe how much really good cod liver oil and multivitamins weigh (thank you HTC).
I spent an afternoon decanting syrups and cough mixtures from glass bottles into big lightweight plastic bottles. Ignoring my sister Amanda’s advice to wrap them in clingfilm, I arrive to discover that Doris’s beautiful purple boots (thank you Age UK) are soaked in Kilkof cough linctus. Not good. I scrub and clean them as best I can and Doris seems delighted with everything except the lingering smell.
Excitingly, my brother calls to confirm he will be in Nairobi on Saturday at 5.00pm.
The walk back home is wet and muddy. The slum mud has stuff in it you really don’t want to think about and has the effect of clamping great gobs of it to your feet so, by the end of a 100 yard walk, you have doubled your body weight.
I curl up with the cats.
I meet with Doris after she has been coffin-shopping and we get together with some more groups in Dagoretti Corner. We fund a fresh ginger and garlic selling group; some women who will be buying, slaughtering and selling chicken; a rice business; a group of three men who have the opportunity to buy a chainsaw and start a firewood business; and another men’s group who have got themselves knee-deep in orders for duck meat.
The Chinese are really taking over here.
I notice, when I go into the supermarket, alongside The Nation, The Standard and The Kenyan, there is now The Chinese Times.