I have just had the most amazing, spine-tinglingly refreshing and totally African experience!

I staggered out of the lab with my books, exhausted but content after a busy day teaching. As I walked accross the field I heard the sound of chanting from accross the games field. It was loud! And in English.
“Father, have you forgotten your first born son?….. staggering, falling … a walking corpse!”.
How can I explain this? Its a sound we just didn’t get in England. If you were to overhear a bunch of English primary school girls reciting a poem, it would sound sweet; this had balls! It sounded more like:
“Aaah war-kin COPS!”

I dumped my books at home and wandered closer to listen to them. As I approached I was spotted. They know me because I often run past them on their way to school at 6.30am. “Brie-tish!” one shouted. I edged through a gap in the hedge to join them and they brought me a chair to sit on. They were rehersing for a poetry performance contest next tuesday. Instead of being shy at the arrival of a native English speaker, they welcomed me and took advantage of the chance to reherse in front of an audience.

The most amazing thing, however, was the discipline. There was one girl who was clearly in charge of the rehersal. She was so confident!
“No!”, she shouted at them, “Do not laugh. Move back! We begin.”

And they did.

They performed three poems with conviction and passion. The first, A Walking Corpse, was about saying no to drugs and alcohol; the second, Stop This Vanity, about FGM, the third, I deserve a decent life, about child labour. They looked at me in the eye as they spoke the lines and made me feel as if they really meant it when they were begging to be left uncut, or to receive a decent wage. Each one was preceeded by an introduction saying who they were (Tala Girls Primary School), who had written the verse and finally “Welcome”, they all said in chorus and curtsied.

Then they performed some solo verses. Two in English and one in Kiswahili which, they told me afterwards, was about sheng’.

Finally, of course, they said “One more!”, and it was my turn. I stood up, faced them and, with a serious face and matching their sincerety as best I could, I did Spike Milligan’s Granny. They participated, whooping and laughing, and looking suitably shocked when Auntie Fannie’s wig blew off.

I said I’d see them again and they invited me back every day at this time. I just need to remember some other poems!


  1. Lydia Says:

    How lovely! You must remember some poems – what about the Spike Milligan one where the cows go bong, or this little one which I guess you know – it’s funny how beetles and creatures like that, can walk upside down as well as walk flat, while I have been trying for a year maybe more and still I can’t stand with my head on the floor – perhaps that’s a bit short – or the Highwayman – or – I’ll shut up now! Enjoy! 😎

  2. Mark Says:

    I can remember Ozymandias, and Poe’s El Dorado, and most of Spike Milligan’s one about a Baboon trying to fly to the sun.

    What does it say about us that the poems we remember best are by Spike Milligan?

  3. Cad Says:


    I really did enjoy reading that entry.
    Your Blog reminds me so much of "My Family And Other Animals" by Gerald Durrel, not the content, but the intimate way you describe your experiences and the richness of description.

    I do miss dear old Spike, bless him.
    It is rumoured that he wished for the following words to appear on his headstone:

    "See! I told you I was ill!"


  4. Thaths Says:


    This is goose-bumpingly (in a nice way) beautiful.


  5. Chris Says:


    "Silly Verse for Kids" (collection of Spike’s poems) was one of my favourite books when I was a kid. I can probably still remember half a dozen of them.

    My other favourite, probably more influential, was the Ladybird book
    "Magnets, Bulbs and Batteries"

  6. Mark Says:

    Thaths, you’re probably the only person who can really appreciate why I wrote "spine tinglingly" in this. Until you’ve been here and heard them/met them….

    C’mon guys, who’s going to be my first visitor?

    Magnets Bulbs and Batteries! I had that too.
    I hand-wound an armiture for an electric motor with cotton-insulated wire on a cork mounted on a needle with two crossed nails at each end to support it. It rant too, though my big horseshoe magnet was rather feeble. I had to have 8 D-cells in series (also nailed to a piece of wood). Ah them were the days.. the days before diodes.