Thoughts of England

As part of my preparation for a year abroad I have compiled a photograph album to take with me, partly for my own pleasure, and to remind me of home when I feel the need to see familiar faces and reminders of “my life before”, and partly as a conversation piece to show my new friends in the Gambia what that life was like, as I’m sure they will be just as fascinated by life in the UK, as I expect to be by their life in West Africa.

This album began as a collection of photographs taken from my youth to the present day, so shows my childhood home, my parents and siblings, friends from university days in Newcastle, family life, scenes from my work at auction sales and on the farm; family, friends and colleagues from the present and recent past, and scattered amongst them for variation, pictures of the area in which I live.


Not just the picturesque moors and dales of North Yorkshire, but also the splendours of York Minster and Castle Howard, the small market town where I live, beaches at Scarborough and Filey, cattle markets, pheasant shooting with local farmers, and of course a picture of H M Queen Elizabeth and members of the Royal Family with the Bishop of Leicester attending a church service. I thought it would give a window into a different world and show how the English live, but this weekend I have added to it something quintessentially English which will probably be completely incomprehensible to a West African farmer.

For this weekend I have been staying with friends in a small village in Northamptonshire and attending the annual Farthingstone village pantomime. My friend Peter writes a script (Jack and the Beanstalk this year, based on the well known fairy tale but with plenty of local and topical references) and he and a few locals spend several weeks rehearsing and then put on three performances of a two hour show for the entertainment of the villagers and to raise funds for the village hall.  It’s certainly not the National Theatre as the hall is tiny, with an open stage at one end, no curtain, only one exit/entrance to the stage, and about ninety seats for the audience, which were all filled at each performance.  It’s amazing what they achieve in the limited space but they put on a very entertaining show for children and adults alike with plenty of jokes, music, singing and audience participation.

The performance on Saturday night was recorded so I’m hoping to be able to load a copy of the film onto my laptop. I have no idea what the Gambians will make of it – a rather large and well padded dame with bright orange hair and lipstick applied with a yard brush singing falsetto, a French maid with feather duster and dubious accent, a sinister “baddie” in black leather trench coat and jackboots, a lovable pantomime dog, an emotional Irish nun, and a large hairy green Scottish giant may all need translating. Still although the dame may take some explaining, at least there wasn’t a principal boy too to complicate matters – that might have been just too much! As for magic beans which grow overnight……oh well, hopefully the farmers won’t expect me to provide new seed as part of my placement with the Ministry of Agriculture and perhaps some of the other volunteers will understand!