Friday, June 14, 2019

NOS Primavera - Jarvis Cocker / Stereolab

NOS Primavera in Porto is the sister festival to Primavera Sound in Barcelona. It's back-to-back weekends – with a fraction of the Barcelona line-up heading west to Porto for three days in Parque de Cuidade. I came last year, got very wet and watched Nick Cave in awe.

Second year running, it's still wet and cold and a lot quieter this year. The lukewarm response to Primavera Sound's "New Normal" line-up in Barcelona has been replicated in Porto causing disastrous ticket sales and a near empty venue. Barcelona was saved by the sheer scale of the operation and huge number of bands – plus additional highlights like last minute booking Miley Cyrus who drew the biggest crowd I've ever seen there. Nothing like that going on in Porto but ... I'm not complaining. It's still a lovely festival, with a polite, respectable, well-behaved, classy crowd, nice food, grass-fringed stages and cheap drinks. We're with first-time Porto Primeraverans Tash and Dan, plus our friend Ricardo and his wife Ivone who are NOS regulars and live a stone's throw from the park.

Jarvis Cocker
I've spent a lifetime successfully avoiding lyrics at all costs. I love music but, generally speaking, I'd rather people didn't ruin the notes with banal comments about life, love and all that. I've also managed to spend around 30 years not really knowing a single thing about Jarvis Cocker.  That all changed for me last night. Revelation time!!!

It helped that Cocker was wearing a nicely-cut suit that makes him look like a Geography teacher. ("Geography teacher" is my favourite rock-star look and part of the reason I am deeply in love with Matt Berninger of The National).

Cocker was playing with new band "JARV IS". First, the banter. This didn't always work. Cocker tends to say whatever's on his mind  - often a bit random. But lots of jokes. He apologised profusely to the crowd for the English fans who had been doing their best to tear down Porto by throwing cans of lager at it. (Tash actually saw a fan trying to open his beer bottle using the facade of a beautifully-tiled church.) He told the audience that there are actually some nice people in England. They remained sceptical. He then handed out Toblerone and Twixes to people in the front row and asked them to share. He gave his set list to a fan who had been holding up a placard saying "SET LIST?" for the entire gig.

Then there were the lyrics. I wrote some down. This is my favourite:

This body is a temporary home. This body wants to take you home. 

All the tracks were great, dancy, and Cocker loped up and down the stage on his impossibly long legs like a Geography teacher explaining in animated fashion how rivers have different ways of shaping the land including erosion. 8/10

I saw Stereolab in Barcelona and couldn't wait to see them again. They are immaculate.

Lætitia Sadier looks exactly like an Air France flight attendant and acts like one too. She wears a demure tailored navy suit with Air France cravat round her neck and a dead-pan expression designed to stop audience members asking if they can change seats. This makes her sound boring but she isn't. She's riveting – and the music is sublime. This year is Stereolab's first slew of live performances in ten years and was a must-see event for many excited fans. Sadier remained calm in the face of all the adulation and pointed out where the oxygen masks might be if we need them.

Stereolab have an awesome back catalogue and every track is engrossing. As the set drives on, the band step up the tempo until by the last track, you're drowning in an absolute frenzy of electronic sound. Even though it's abundantly clear we're about to crash land,  Sadier remains sublimely professional - a focal point of reassurance as we plummet to earth. But it's all fine. We land safely and start taxiing to the terminal. Sadier takes a modest bow and the audience reluctantly start getting their stuff out of the overhead lockers. We'd all have been happy with a ten-hour flight. 10/10

Sunday, June 02, 2019



6.15pm - Flawless breeze past security with a belt-load of smuggled contraband (bottle caps, whisky flask etc).  We also immediately conduct a fantastic Cup Collection swap with someone and now have two complete collections 2001-2019. The limited edition 2020 cup is being released today and comes with a free ticket to next year's Primavera but we just wanted souvenirs.

6.20pm - Ray-Ban - no better place to start a Primavera day than this gorgeous amphitheatre style stage with great seating, great views and lots of shade. It's often the forum for World Music stuff and today's offering is Dayme Arocena from Cuba. This is a big mama with a huge voice doing salsa and cha cha numbers.

7.15pm - Built to Spill at Primavera. I remember literally nothing about this band. I am assuming it was another dose of "rock normale" and the ever-helpful Primavera Sound souvenir book appears to confirm this: "A day that is still a normal day, a normal career, planned during so many The Normal Years which is, with their usual normalness, what they titled their first compilation."

8.25pm - Shellac at Ray-Ban - Steve Albini is very witty so I'd actually prefer it if he talked more and played less. It's hardcore rock - not really my thing. But Albini is still my hero for being both a bonafide rock star AND a great poker player - he snagged his first WSOP bracelet last year (Event #31, $1,500 Stud) straight after playing Primavera NOS in Porto. Benjo (die hard fan) was beyond gutted he wasn't in Vegas to meet him but Albini did say "hello Benjo" in a winner's interview for Winamax. Albini is performing in the same Cocaine Piss t-shirt he wore at his WSOP bracelet ceremony. Respect. 7/10

Rock star
Bracelet winner

9pm ish - break for pizza and poster purchasing.

10.20pm - over to the Beach Club for Lizzo. I had no idea what to expect but there was already a massive crowd in front of the new Lotus stage on the beach. Everyone is chanting "Li-zzo, Li-zzo, Li-zzo" for a full five minutes before she comes on. And wow, what an entrance. Lizzo is huge, and bounced onto stage in some kind of sparkly pink leotard like a giant, twerking telly tubby.

Lizzo is a formidable presence with an outstanding voice. She's warm-hearted, hilarious, irreverent, rude, sassy. She flings her hair around like Miss Piggy and cracks awesome jokes. Spectacular throughout. Amazing tunes, great dancers, great attitude. The audience was the best I've ever seen at Primavera, 100% engaged, doing absolutely anything she asked of us. When she asked who'd like to lick her pussy, practically everyone raised their hands. She also asked us if she should run for President in 2020. Resounding yes. Probably the best gig of PS 2019. 10/10

11.30-midnight - light dancing to techno at the Desperados Cube stage

12.15am - It's Primal Scream time but a very lukewarm Primal Scream. They look like they prepared for the gig by doing the Telegraph crossword. When Gillespie sang "We wanna get loaded and we wanna have a good time", I'm pretty sure what what he really wanted to do was to get back to his hotel room and read his Kindle. Going through the motions. Zero passion/stage presence. 3/10

1.30am - Stereolab - first live show in ten years - simply immaculate, and I get to watch the whole thing all over again at Primavera Porto next weekend. Beautiful notes. gorgeous melodies. This band has it all for me. 10/10

2.45 the Forum underground car park aka Ray-Ban Studios. Benjo and I have tried this place out three times. Day 1 : we couldn't find the DJ at all because there was so much dry ice. It looked like a zombie apocalypse and we lasted three minutes. Day 2,  we got past the lasers and dry ice and discovered the DJ is in the MIDDLE. Ah! Day 3, we head back in, and spend most our time dancing in car park space #55. We love Peach who has lots of zombies up on their feet including a club owner from Edinburgh, who says she was playing at his place three weeks ago. 7/10

Car park full of zombies

A zombie

5am: I am still up. This is a record (never made it past 3am in previous four years). The usual DJ Coco end-of-event slot is now two girls - Rosario and Sama Yax. I plan to chair dance my way through this but Bowie's Let's Dance gets me up and so does Lykke Li. I survive all the way through to sunrise. I give myself 10/10.

Out of focus sunrise

6am: Thank you Primavera!!!!!!!!! and huge thanks to Benjo, who curated a wonderful musical journey for me, made me laugh constantly and is just the most perfect companion in every way. 

The complete 2001-2019 Primavera Cup Collection x 2

Saturday, June 01, 2019



Noon: wake up, eat, write blogs, shower, look at pool and then sneak in to 15th floor Executive Lounge where we drink a lot of George Clooney coffee.

4pm I pass up on the one-in-a-lifetime chance to watch Midori Takada, a 67-year-old female Japanese percussionist who is exploring a diverse range of Nokia ringtones on a triangle. Benjo's notes say "cinematic, relaxing, nap opportunity".

5pm - I have my first ever bust at security when they find and confiscate my bottle caps. My role as a middle-aged drugs-and-alcohol mule might be over.

5.10pm - Benjo and I meet at the Food Court for one of our five a day (orange juice) while failing to make it to Ray-Ban to see Lucy Dacus. Sorry Lucy.

5.35pm - we race to the Primavera stage to see Snail Mail. This is mainly because Benjo says the singer looks just like Tash. Actually she doesn't look remotely like Tash, apart from the fact that she's a woman in her 20s. We have nothing very bad to say about Snail. I liked her speaking voice ("what a great day to have technical difficulties") more than her singing voice and Benjo didn't like her sunglasses but, apart from that, all very pleasant. The Primavera Sound Souvenir Book (PSSB) really excels itself for nonsensical writing in their Snail Mail write-up - read this and then throw up.

Side note: Benjo is on a last-longer not to have a drink before 7pm. I was eliminated after taking an early slug from my illegally-smuggled-into-venue whisky flask. 4/10

6.30pm - off to the new cabaret room to watch Birkins from the Canary Islands massacre the whole of the Ziggy Stardust album. At least that's what I thought we were in for, but I wasn't worried because I'll listen to Bowie in practically any form and, in any case, Your Heinekin Stage is a great place to play Chinese poker. WOW, NO TIME FOR CHINESE! Cristina Santana made a strong start, then brought on a guy who looked like Bob Geldof and then ex-Posies/REM guitarist Ken Stringfellow bounded onto stage all guns blazing. He rock and rolled his way through five tracks like he was Mick Jagger on Aderall. Jumping up and down, flinging his hair around, flinging the mic stand around, blasting it out. I danced on a table at one point. Ken - you were magnificent and win "Most Energetic and Personal Performance" of Primavera 2019. 8/10

7.15pm - we catch the end of Sons of Kemet XL. As always, the Primavera Sound Souvenir Book is hugely informative ("It’s here. It’s now. And yesterday. And tomorrow. Whatever. It is always.") This is an exuberant World Music type ensemble with four drummers, fab sax, awesome tuba. We'll definitely catch the whole set next week at Primavera NOS in Porto.  7/10

8pm: off to Beach Club for a bit of DJ stuff but Laurel Halo depresses me so we head for VIP and four more hands of Chinese poker.

I'm 38 points at this stage but a handy trips up top saves Benjo from a Day 2 annihilation. He ends the session 4 points up, down 34 in total.

We hit the dance floor for Steffi which I like a lot. Even the PSSB gets this one right calling it "classic house". Yum.

9pm: we pass by Pitchfork stage for rocker Liz Phair. I struggle to understand the USP for these rock chick bands - they all sound alike. Instead I offer to queue for falafels which are absolutely delicious and constructed entirely out of cardboard and sofa fluff.

9.30pm - our first trek to the main stages. First up: Janelle Monae on the Pull&Bear stage. This is a mega show. Must have cost a fortune. Very accomplished. She slags off Trump, homophobia, racism etc and sings lots of great tunes. It's an impressive show.

23.10 - as we're still in the area, I think it might be fun to catch a bit of Miley Cyrus. I know she's a pop star but that's about it. Her set opens with film footage of her eating fruit. It's the most pornographic thing I've ever seen at Primavera and I hope no children were watching as she pouted, sucked, licked, gobbled and squelched her way through a pile of oozing citrus fruits before lathering her tummy and crotch in juice. WOW. Then she came on stage and I'm HOOKED. Fucking hell. Sexiest singer I've ever seen in my life - stiletto boots, PVC trousers, crop top. Jealous-making flat tummy. Gorgeous hair. Great voice. It was stellar. Probably the biggest crowd I've ever seen at Primavera too. Loved every minute. 10/10.

 12.20am - Back to Primavera VIP to watch Low. I liked them when I listened in my bedroom but on stage they were stultifying. They seem very sad and I can only assume it's because of Brexit. 4/10

1am - Yves Tumor is very high on our list of Primavera must-sees. The music is great but Benjo might never recover from the fact that we were listening to playback not actual singing. "It's heart-breaking" he said and went off to drown his sorrows with another half of Heineken.

2am - I've seen Jungle four times now and they are ALWAYS reliable. Catchy tunes and sooooo danceable. Even though the backdrop, set list and line-up never seem to change, they are just fab. Thanks Jungle. Great way to end Day 2. 9/10.

3am - bed. Benjo returns at 6am with another 48 Primavera cups for our collection.

All pics by Benjo

Friday, May 31, 2019


This will be of interest to you only if you're into music, drugs and Chinese poker - not necessarily in that order.

This year's Primavera Sound Barcelona is an interesting experience in that we have gone from a hardcore group of around 20 friends down to just two survivors - Mad and Benjo. In some ways, this is a shame - we miss our mates – but in other ways, it's fine: no endless, battery-draining text exchanges saying "where are you?", two-mile treks to see bands you're only vaguely interested in and watching other people eat revolting burgers when you're not hungry and you're a vegetarian.

This year I am on a curated musical journey led by the master of music curation, Benjo. I don't know what we're going to see - I'm just being led around the Parc de Forum with a concise explanation en route as to what to expect. I have told Benjo he has free rein to take me to whatever he likes, even if it's well out of my comfort zone. I only lasted at Wu Tan Clan two minutes four years ago, but I've grown up a lot since then.

This is how, in 2019, I found myself enjoying hip hop star Nas and shed-loads of "rock normale." And, on the whole, Benjo and I have agreed on what's been good and what's shit.

Let's start with the shit - Charli XCX- I don't who the fuck you are but you should have been chucked off stage after three minutes. 95% of your "voice" is auto-tuned, you can't dance, your lyrics are trite and you have an inexplicably inflated sense of your own talent and popularity. At one point, I told Benjo she sounded like a Spice Girl. Two seconds later, she sang Wanna Be. Charli - you didn't just let yourself down, you let the whole school down.

All my Day 1 reviews are below, time-stamped, including all Chinese poker hands fully notated. Also included (where relevant) the absolutely senseless band descriptions from the official Primavera Sound souvenir book (free to VIPs so we have copies going back five years).

4.20pm - Day 1 gets off to an astonishingly early start with Benjo saying I "might like" Bridget St John which is in Barcelona's super comfy Auditori Rockdelux concert hall. Let's start with what PS Souvenir Book (PSSB) has to say about Bridget (prepare to vomit.) "The songs by Bridget St. John are always a window. Sometimes, we are immersed in her folk contemplating how it rains on the other side. At other times, we are outside, under a light sun, observing the inside of the house inhabited by this singer songwriter." My review: "great opportunity for a nap" 4 or 5/10

5pm - we stay in Auditori for Julien Baker who knocked our socks off. PSSB called it "existentially anguished folk" - fuck them. Julin is super cute, very shy and looks like she's playing in her bedroom. Julien is only 22 or something, but she has the voice of an angel. In her penultimate song, Turn Out the Lights, which reaches a massive crescendo, I had goosebumps. Hats off also to her wonderful violinist accompanist. On the way out, Benjo told me Julien's lesbian/Christianity/addiction backstory. Major talent 8/10

6pm - we just catch the end of Alice Phoebe Lou at Primavera Stage. Her band were GORGEOUS - lovely line-up of hot and very talented guys, especially blue-haired trombonist and surf dude sax player. Lucky APL - getting to travel with that lot! As for APL, she'd be pretty good if she didn't do an unnecessary screechy whoop at the end of every other line. She also made the unfortunate error of going to a Catalan hairdresser just before the gig so blighted by a truly frightful fringe. 6/10

6.10pm  - off to our favourite stage for Soccer Mommy. First real dose of rock/pop normale and an accomplished, no surprises set. Ray-Ban pretty full for 6pm. I liked her voice, band and songs but really hated her skirt. My only tip to Soccer Mommy (apart from changing her skirt and wearing jeans like everyone else) is NOT to try singing a slow, meaningful ballad to the 6pm Ray-Bay crowd. THEY ARE NOT READY and will just wander off as they think the gig's over.

7pm - Steven Malkmus and the Jicks at Primavera stage. Finally a bloke!!!! (Note from editor - this year's Primavera is branded the New Normal and is 50%+ women - gender equality and all that. Oh well). This is our first opportunity to see someone playing guitar in order to show us how big his dick is (medium size, Steven is modest). He looks like a cross between Philip Hammond and Liam Gallagher (but more Philip Hammond). I am happy to see that the area where Benj Scrimgeour and his hernia watched The Cure is now clearly marked with a massive disabled flag. Benjo tells me that guitars are going out of fashion as lead instruments as they're deemed too phallic. Steven Malkmus bangs on a bit and gets more and more forgettable by the minute. I've forgotten it already and I'm still there.

8.30pm BEACH CLUB - we make the trek across the Port Forum bridge to the now three-year-old Beach Club area. We discover gin and tonics are €7. Horrible shock. We take our first half E and play our first hands of Chinese poker. Hand 1: I bust. Benjo: +16; After four hands, Benjo is up 7 and down about €20 as he's really hitting the gin and tonics hard.

10pm - things are really kicking in in the most perfect way for a perfect set by DJ set by Krystal Klear to a perfect sunset. The crowd are horribly dressed, especially the English (2/10). Highlights - Neutron Dance (his hit single), Dead or Alive's You Spin me Round.

10,20pm. "It's DARK! Let's get the party started", says Benjo, who started partying about two hours ago. We head to Ray-Ban for Nas. It's heaving. Tons of die-hard fans. I love it even though it's hip-hop. I spend quite a lot of time worrying about his bright orange, diamond-patterned nylon golf jumper which is clearly highly flammable and I fear the worst. Luckily no one on stage is smoking or holding candles so all good. This is the first hip hop I haven't walked out of but the fact that Nas utilises a wide range of cultural references including Beethoven and Mozart really helps. It's a huge crowd and they love it and he's very good. A lot of his hits are from 30 years ago - I missed them at the time as I was busy listening to Dave, my then-husband, sing me acoustic love songs about his ex-girlfriend.

11.42pm - Your Heineken stage - Fab new superb new cabaret-style venue with seating booths which is clearly tailor-made for playing Chinese poker. The "background" music is really foreground music - new wave, very good Pylon Reenactment Society. I can chair dance to this and also get Superland in first hand of Chinese and another 24 points.

Midnight - I'm still awake which is, in itself, a miracle. We head to another new stage - Seat Village - and catch half of soul singer Celeste's soulful set. She is fantastic in a lounge, sequin-dress kind of way.

1.55am - Charli - see above. Embarrassing.

2.50am - FKA Twigs. This was more spectacle than gig. A wonderful piece of theatre with sword juggling, pole dancing and about a dozen highly elaborate costume changes. I don't like this kind of music at all, but she was super-impressive. Phenomenal sinewy dancer who outshone her dance troupe by 20:1. She achieved something utterly unique, surprising and entertaining - a feat Bjork utterly failed at with her Mordor-themed production last year.

4am - bed. Great first day. Thanks Primavera 2019. Pretty good so far.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Gap Year – Safari – Day 2

After a night at Eileen’s Trees Inn in Karutu – where I am bored into an early night by a pedantic German – we set off for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. My Swahili lesson is going great guns so while Ally picks up our “permitys”, I chat to other tour guides. They are all very earnest and I decide I easily have the best guide.

We climb up through the thick, luscious woodland of the Ngorongoro Highlands and skirt the rim of the stunning caldera.  I haven’t been here since I was 10 but can still remember the breathtaking moment when you see Ngorongoro for the first time. 19.5km across, 8,000 km2 – an idyllic Shangri-La for wildlife. Through our binoculars. we watch some rhinos having sex. It goes on for ages; the couple’s baby rhino stands beside them and waits for them to finish.

We skirt the caldera and set off north-west towards the Serengeti. The Masai are the only people allowed to live in the Conservation Area and we pass drifts of goats and cattle, always with a Masai nearby, leaning on a long stick, checked red “shuka” slung over one shoulder. In one giant herd, I see cows and sheep grazing peacefully alongside wildebeest and zebra – an exquisite sight.

Scenery much like the Scottish Highlands – but with more giraffes – gives way to some Andalucia-style scrub. There are hundreds of zebra and wildebeest, slowly heading south on their 1,000 mile trek, munching as they go – the Great Migration.

We turn off the main track and suddenly we’re on a vast empty plain. Ally tells me this is exactly what the word “Serengeti” means – an endless plain. Gazelles scatter ahead of the jeep, ostriches eye us suspiciously. We see a hyena – Ally’s favourite animal – skulking along beside the road. The hills we’ve descended from slowly diminish and, in the far distance, a line of low bush gets slowly nearer. We reach the scrub and suddenly there are giraffes everywhere, zebras, some adorable dikdiks wobbling their noses at us, guineafowl scuttling out of our way.

We are spending the next two nights at Ndutu Tented Camp perched high above a beautiful lake where we watch hundreds of wildebeest stand at the shore grunting and deciding whether it’s time to cross. Actually, they could easily go round the lake but they are only programmed to cross water, not skirt it. I

I determine that the best sunset view is going to be right by the lake so at 6pm we head down. I neck the last of my Kenya Cane as we watch the sun sink below the low hill on the far side of the lake. Luckily Ally’s a Muslim so I don’t have to share. It’s probably the best sunset of my life.

Gap Year – Safari time – Day 1

After a cancelled flight and five hour delay (thanks KenyaAirways), I finally arrive at Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania at 2am. Ally is waiting, my guide for the next eight days. He’s also my Swahili teacher but I decide not to break this to him until the next day. This is officially a “rest day” as I desperately need a rest after being on holiday for the previous six weeks but Ally recommends a shopping expedition at a local market in Arusha.

The next day, Ally acclimatises me gently to Tanzania by taking me to Bee Eater’s office seven miles away where two girls struggle with a credit card reader that doesn’t work. I’m very hot and have a temper tantrum. Ally deals with it politely and calmly, the girls say sorry a lot. Later Ally confides that dealing with difficult clients like me is the first thing you have to learn on the “how to be a guide” course. He was also thinking to himself: “This Mamma’s going to kill me.”

After fun times at the office, we head to Kilombero market, where I resist the opportunity to buy fabrics designed by someone on an acid trip along with a cabbage, second-hand shoes and some goats. I buy some dates.

The safari gets underway at 7am the next day. We’re off to Lake Manyara where elephants, monkeys and leopards abound. As soon as I determine it’s now just a bit too far to turn back, I inform Ally that – in addition to his strenuous one-on-one, 24/7 guiding duties – he’s also going to be teaching me Swahili. Luckily, he’s right up for it and we kick off with verbs for “like”, “see” and “go.”

"Tembo" (elephant) and "simba" (lion) are already part of my vocabulary so by the time we actually see elephants – and a lion up a tree – I’m able to say I can see them, like them and let’s go.

We stop for a picnic lunch overlooking the lake, and a family of elephants munching thoughtfully beneath us. I start a long series of complaints about my packed lunch which has cold chips in it. Cold chips turns out to be a staple of the safari “lunch boxy” but Ally likes them so happy to pick up the slack. We see lots of “twigas” and “pundamilia”, “ndege” galore and some cute “nyani”. Wielding my Nikon, I find I'm a master at catching animals’ bottoms as they wander off away from us into the bush.

We drive as far along the lake as it’s possible to go and reach a boardwalk stretching out into the alkaline waters. Swimming not advised. Dozens of swallows perch along the boardwalk, taking flight as we make our way to the end.

We head out of the park and up the wall of the Great Rift Valley. The views are spectacular, inexpertly captured on my Nikon.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Gap Year – Lamu

After a ten-minute stopover in Malindi, our miniature plane flies on to the miniature airport that serves Lamu. From there, we are ferried across the water to the sleepy village of Shela where various hawkers, porters and incongruous Masai jewellery sellers line the dock.

Apart from boats, the only transport on Lamu – famously – is donkeys but I never see them actually carrying anything. They stand around ruminating on street corners, heads down, or are seen ambling off on secret missions but a definite nope to anything approaching “beast of burden” and resolutely oblivious to their human neighbours.

I’m staying at Fatuma’s Tower, a guesthouse I chose after extensive research on the internet only to discover that it’s owned by Frankie’s uncle. The streets through town are sandy, winding and labrynthine. I’m confused after the first three turns and never fully master the route. As we weave our way up through the tiny alleyway, I try to log landmarks – a hopeless strategy – one donkey or straggly chicken looks much like any other.

Shela is gorgeous and one of the things I like most is that every time I get lost, which is all the time, someone is immediately right beside me, offering to help. Six-year-olds speaking immaculate English grab my elbow and gently push me in the right direction, or weave through the streets ahead of me, looking back from time to time to check I’m keeping up. They clearly think I’m an idiot but do their best not to let it show.

Fatuma’s Tower itself is a lovely jumble of one, two and three-storey buildings set in a delightful garden. The place looks like it’s been there for centuries but nearly all of it has all been created from scratch, in traditional style, by Gilles and his wife Fiametta over the last 20 years. The garden is full of beautiful trees, shrubs, a plunge pool, tons of birdlife and a monkey that nicks my bananas.


My days on Lamu pass in a sublime blur. One night I join my fellow Fatuma guests for a dhow sunset cruise, a much-lauded highlight of any visit to Lamu. Anne and Florian from France have just climbed Mount Kenya on their own, with no guide or porters. Nick and Megan are from the UK and have just got engaged. We steer out into the still waters between Lamu and Manda islands, drinking and chatting and watching the sun sink slowly behind the sand dunes. It’s idyllic. 




Daytimes I juggle between living it up at the luxurious Majlis Resort with its romantic swimming pools and sumptuous sun-loungers, or hanging out at Diamond Village, a chilled-out beach bar with full-on pizza oven.


It’s very hot and I’ve gone right off culture but nevertheless I force myself to take a morning off doing fuck-all to head into Lamu Town. The whole place is a Unesco World Heritage site and, like Zanzibar, is famed for its very beautiful ornately-carved wooden doors. I make cultural headway at Lamu Museum which is mainly about doors but also has a small section on indigenous tribes and a potted history of Lamu’s golden era when it was a hub for trading spices, slaves and Oriental knick-knacks. Ali and Hafswa, a Muslim couple from Mombasa, join me for the guided tour. Hafswa is draped head to ankle in floaty black chiffon but I can still see her soulful eyes, delicate hands and glamorous sequinned sandals. She barely speaks but we have a significant bonding moment playing ethnic drums together on the second floor.


One of the highlights of my Lamu sojourn is copping off with a former Marine who now works as a pilot at the US military base on Manda Island. I’ve never met a Marine, or a mercenary, or anyone at all who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan and I’m keen to know more about these lovely tourist destinations. X tells me he can’t tell me anything about his work and then tells me all about it. He flies night-time surveillance/recon missions over Somalia looking for terrorists. He also spends a lot of time flying around Nigeria looking for Boko Haram. Obviously I can't reveal any intel here but I can post up the hilarious Afghanistan drone video he gave me (watch right to the end).

After extracting a ton of classified intel, I drag X off to the “cinema”, a Friday night film club at Diamond Beach. We share the boat over with Phoebe and Ali, star-crossed lovers who met at a conference for gifted students. They come from wildly different backgrounds. Ali is a local boy, which means he grew up surrounded by sand, donkeys and chickens while Phoebe grew up in Nairobi but they’re making a go of a long-distance relationship. As we neck mojitos and fight off mercenary-grade mosquitos, Phoebe tells us a great story about Putin’s mum and the siege of Leningrad. Then it’s time for the film: The Wife with Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce. What a perfect evening. Next stop: Watamu

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Gap Year – en route to Lamu – Meryl Streep interlude

For my overnight stay in Nairobi, I’m lucky enough to get an invite from my new mate Sally to come stay with her. I have only met Sally once before – for about an hour on Gatwick drone attack day when we were both trying to get to Venice for a friend’s 50th. In January, Sally whatsapps me and invites me to stay. As I have a hotel booked, I’m hesitant but Andrea says: “Cancel your hotel immediately; Sally is great and her house is amazing.” It’s all true. Sally is fab, fun and a talented artist (check out her site here) and her house is the Ngong Dairy – which stood in for Karen Blixen’s home in “Out of Africa”. This would already qualify it as a pretty extraordinary place to stay but what really does it for me is Sally’s fabulous art collection – a cornucopia of African art, English watercolours, photographs, a dazzling, wall-sized painting of an ostrich and a staggering collection of kimono-style battle dresses in illuminated glass cases.

When I arrive, Sally has set up lunch on a linen-covered table in the middle of a huge lawn. It’s glorious and almost more Streepy than I can cope with. Sally then heads to the gym and I spend the afternoon wafting around and thinking about Robert Redford. On Sally’s return, we settle down to an evening of gossiping, story-swapping and getting to know each other. It’s a brief but blissful interlude which I thoroughly enjoy.

The next day we drop in to Sally’s gallery before I catch an Uber (yay, Uber!!!!) to Wilson Airport. My driver Martin is chatty and we have a fun ride. Martin wants to be in my blog so here he is:

 At Wilson Airport, I meet Edwins, the owner of Kenya Buses. This might be a useful contact if I was the slightest bit interested in ever using public transport in Nairobi. I introduce him to my other new friend, Priscilla, the engineering head of the Malindi water board. We start talking about bendy buses - not a subject I thought would come up during my visit to Africa. Edwins is planning to introduce them in Nairobi but Priscilla and I are sceptical. I reference Boris and Priscilla says they won't work in Kenya unless you reduce capacity. I am not sure whether we convince Edwins or not.

I ask Priscilla if there are ever any problems with the water supply in Malindi. No, she says, the service is excellent. But after we board the plane, I find myself sitting next to Katoi Wa Tabaka, a jazz musician, hip hop artist and rising star on the Kenya music scene.  He looks like a rock star and is exactly the kind of person I was hoping to meet on my travels.

Katoi Wa Tabaka - are you a rock star?
As he's from Malindi, I ask him if he ever has water problems. Yes, he says, we were cut off the whole of last week actually. Ooh, Priscilla was telling porky pies! She buries her head in her laptop. Oops.

At Malindi, Katoi disembarks but promises to keep in touch; he is as good as his word and although we don't manage to meet up again, he does put me in touch with a great friend of his in Watamu where I'm heading after Lamu. Thanks Katoi!! (ps Katoi's music is great and you can find him on YouTube, Ethnocloud and SoundCloud. This is my favourite track: Kunani - it's great.