[email protected] - Thirteen and still counting …

November 2010

This year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to Paul Harding for his book entitled Tinkers. It is not, as I thought, a story about a philosophical Irishman, it’s about a father and son, Howard and George Crosby. As George is dying, the story of the family’s past unfolds and we discover that his father, a tinker, was an epileptic and that George himself repaired clocks for a living. The author also quotes from a fictitious reference book entitled The Reasonable Horologist by the Rev. Kenner Deavenport, 1783, which he quotes from and uses to plant a philosophical concept: “Our greatest clock men find that poetry resides in the human process of distilling civilization from riotous nature!”
It’s an outstanding read.

Tinkers in the old days used a horse and cart to travel and get to out-of-the-way places carrying stocks of pots and pans, soap, shirts, trousers, miracle remedies for known and unknown illnesses and a catalogue from which items could be ordered. Today, the tinker has been replaced by anonymous telephone salespeople, and the average punter now tends to make his or her own weekly pilgrimage to a supermarket where they can purchase all they need and be convinced to buy things they really don’t need by subliminal advertising or skilfully placed displays beside the checkout point.
The day of the tinker has been lost forever ... or has it?
“Salut les copains,” is how he always greets us on the beach if I’m not alone, or “Salut mon copain,” if I am alone. The ‘he’ is Mamadou. And he is as much a part of Menton’s summer landscape as the sky-blue sea, the inevitable sun, the blue mountains or the colourful and heavily laden stalls in the fruit and vegetable market.

LAKIN@LARGE - Thirteen and still counting …

Mamadou too is also heavily laden with his own colourful goodies that he brings from his native Senegal before summer’s influx of tourists : lined and zipped cotton beach bags decorated with elephants and African vases with typical colourful designs; he has baubles, beads and bracelets, multi-coloured kaftans for the ladies, belts for the men, pouches that you hang around your neck to carry your mobile telephone and other valuables, a stack of hats on his head, sunglasses and, from time to time, inexpensive glitzy Chinese watches for an ostentatious shimmy in the local disco or to amplify the sparkle in the more up-market ones in Monte Carlo. (Out of interest, for those of you who like to financially speculate in the Principality’s famous casino, and your take-home pay is far less than your entrance fee, there’s a local bus that will bring you back the nine and a half kilometres to your digs in Menton for just one Euro – the price of a coffee in one of the beach cafés.)

But back to Mamadou. He told me he has just celebrated the birth of a daughter and because he was plying his trade in Menton couldn’t attend the aqiqa, a ceremony carried out on the seventh day after her birth during which a sheep is slaughtered and the child’s hair is cut.
“How many children do you have Mamadou?” I asked “Thirteen,” he replied with a broad grin. “My eldest, a son, is thirty-three.”
I must have looked a little surprised because he quickly added, “ As a Muslim I have three wives, I’m allowed four, but I only have three.”
Mamadou returns home in October for six months and he’ll be back next year, as usual, dressed in his robes bedecked with all the paraphernalia of his profession. As he says with a sly wink, “After my six month period of abstinence in Menton, God willing, there may be another aqiqa next year!”

And talking of Africa, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went into the Sahara desert on a camping trip, set up their tent, and after some medicinal brandy turn in for the night. Some hours later, Holmes awakens Watson with, “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”
“I see millions of stars,” he replies.
“And what does that tell you Watson?’
After a moments pause, he says, “Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are many galaxies and thousands of planets. Theologically, it’s evident the Lord is omnipotent and we are insignificant in the overall scheme of things.
Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow and horologically it must be around three o’clock in the morning. What does it tell you Holmes?” “Someone’s stolen our bloody tent Watson!”
Well, you’ve got to laugh haven’t you?