“If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
Romantically, our stroll up the Cally Road through war and peace the night before Bamako morning began in Paris.
Vive La Revolution! Bastille, January 1990.
A new decade a new world for us both. Petra was getting used to being a teenager in Czechoslovakia with a broken Berlin Wall, natioanl identity crisis and French literature, films and art flooding east into Petra’s bedroom in the mountains of Moravia. I was getting used to a post-Thatcher Britain as a student abroad in Paris, living between two of the scenes of the recent attacks, Place de la Republique and Place de la Bastille.
Ah Petra! Those crazy youthful peace marching days!
The first Gulf war was looming. Saddam the bad had pinched Kuwait’s oil after a US ambassador said he could but now George Bush the father was pissed after all and the British Prime Minister, the new one with the underpants outside his suit, was getting antsy too. Many thought that war might not be the answer. We thought they should tell Saddam off and get him to put the lolly back and go home and maybe put him on the naughty chair for a while. Pas les bombs!The party began at Bastille, whistled past Republique, snaking for the planned réunion at The Elysee Palace. Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, Vive La Revolution and all zat! As the carnival arrived at a large “place” close to its destination barriers and police began dividing and splitting the throng down the various streets spoking off. The whistling stopped, confusion swept through the crowd. What about the Palace? Place de la Concorde? Merde alors! Families headed back, the foolish were herded on, so we were going to a different party!
Suddenly we were down a small street and at the front. A few hundred yards ahead was a line of vans and heavily armoured men – the infamous CRS! Riot squad. I knelt down, looked through my zoom lens to get a closer view and saw a line of Robo Cops charging towards me.
Behind was confusion, to the left buildings, our only way was to the right into a park. We swirled and ran, I veered left, round a clump of trees, my friend Andy dit “Bungle” (for his red dungarees) veered right, our shadows followed him, rugby tackled him down, handcuffs, marched away and Bungle was bundled into a van along. When the van was full it drove off and disappeared into the cold night. Calm descended. Peace Party over, we wandered back.
On the metro a guy was walking through the carraiges bumming cigarettes. We got off at the same stop. I begged a cigarette, now he had a packet’s worth! He pulled a knife on me. Time to keep my gob shut and go home!
Many hours later Bungle returned to our cafe, Chez Georges. What had happened? What had they charged him with, what had they said? “Nothing, they just kept us in a cell and then let us go”.
Lady mine, that was the closest your nomad ever got to trouble and terror! Twice in a day, feet away!
We had failed, and weeks later we watched the world’s first world war on CNN with our artisan neighbours Chez Georges: Menu du Jour avec vin rouge ou blanc, Camembert et un petit Pastice when Georges felt genereux or TonTon bravoed “Encore! Moi avec les Anglais avec de Gaulle! Vive la Resistance Vive La France. Vive l’Angleterre!”
“Tais-toi! Ton Ton! Merde aux Anglais! On regarde le video!”
1996 Football’s coming home and all that!
As Petra turns 18 so she turns west and emigrates to London to see the other side. I am now an actor, currently in War and Peace at the National Theatre. Three months rehearsal, days before Press Night, forty minutes before my third preview performance of the biggest break of my career I am running down a corridor, jump three steps, and BANG! All I know is pain, all I hear is my own voice screaming a very rude word very loudly with all my actooors vocal technique and Venessa Redgrave asking me if I’m OK.
That morning, after feeling the need to explain to the checkout girl in Boots why i was buying make up, she wished me to “Break a leg!”. I had obliged. As I was taken off in the ambulance I saw the audience filing out of the National. I waved goodbye to War and Peace and saw a “what if?” moment pass me by.
But pity is a great puller, and my broken leg scored me my co-star, Cath. It also got me a disabled ticket on the goaline at Wembley, England V Germany semi-final Euro ’96 seeing Paul Gascoigne missing by inches and Gareth Southgate by a mile. “Two World Wars and One World Cup” had led to the inevitable result. Germany V Czech Republic final. Petra went home to see scores settled, and of course came home to London distraught.
Football went home to Germany but we all got better soon.
New York, June 2001
Petra is now putting herself through university in London, I’m now in Hamlet “to be or not to be…” and ‘to thine own self be true” and all that, again at the National Theatre and history is repeating as Cath, now my fiancée, is again in the same production. Right now we’re on tour, performing in New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music and right right now this very second we are vertiginously looking out from the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Centre, high above Manhattan watching the passing air traffic. Romeo and Juliet to be married in a month, together in Hamlet, together in New York and on top of the world looking down! That bad break was worth it after all!
Three months later, as we were settling into married life back in London, one of those planes flew out of that same sky in through that very same window, and the world shifted dramatically again along its new “evil” axis.
Missed by three months and 2000 air miles. Air travel would never be the same.
Cath and I divorced a few years later and so i took the road back home to Africa, overland to play it safe.
London 7 July 2005
On this day in this place four bombs exploded on the public transport system of London. Two of them went off a mile from Petra’s flat, one ona tube at King’s Cross and one in a bus on Tavistock Square. Petra had gone in a different direction that morning, missed by a mile. I was out of town, missed by 100 or so miles.
Public transport in London didn’t change at all this time, except when the police shot an innocent man, a Brazilian student traveller very much wrong-colour-wrong-city-wrong country-WRONG TIME to run from Robo Cop.
Back to November 2015
As we passed the spot on thr Cally Road where the flowers still hang for the young teenager stabbed in the heart for his bike last year, I thought I’d lighten the mood and take Petra back with me to Africa, as just around this explosive time in London I was chilling with Tuareg nomads in their desert paradise, getting the pea of an idea in my brain for a new life calling itself “From Here 2 Timbuktu”.