Friday, November 29, 2013

Five Hours GMT: World Events That Helped Shape Pirates

It was shortly after 11 pm on 11 July 2010, and thousands of Ugandan football fans had crowded into Kampala’s bars to watch the last ten minutes of the World Cup finals on TV.  Not being a footy fan, I had purposely stayed away from the melee, and was at home watching Discovery

I did not hear the first attack. The Ethiopian restaurant in Kabalagala was out of audible range, but the large outdoor screen at Kyadondo Rugby Club, where the second attack took place was less than three kilometres from my apartment. I heard a dull thud immediately followed by a terrible scraping noise, the sound of countless steel ball-bearings ripping through plastic chairs, flesh and bone. Moments later, another explosion. 

The death toll from the suicide attacks totalled 74 people, and 70 more were injured. I later learned that a friend had been badly injured in the rugby club attack. She has since made a remarkable recovery.  

Notwithstanding the real human tragedies involved, the news, while getting closer to home, was proving a source of inspiration as I attempted to write compelling adventure stories set within real life events. And a miasmal alphabet soup of headlines about human wickedness had been floating around my subconscious since childhood.

Listening to BBC World Service each week day morning over breakfast - two fried eggs, two beef sausages, and a mug of strong, black Nile coffee - is a tradition I’d be loathed to give up. The Beeb, like the African dawn chorus, is deeply embedded in my memory. 

When I lived in Dar-es-salaam in the early 1970s, every school morning began with the chimes of Big Ben phasing in and out as my father tuned his Grundig Yacht Boy to the World Service. The scholarly voice of an Oxbridge announcer, bouncing off the ionosphere to reach me snug in my bed blended nicely with the pulse of the Indian Ocean outside my window.  

But the awakening was frequently rude, alarming headlines that wormed their way into my young mind. Living two time zones ahead of London, we were often the first in the Anglophone world to hear the news. “Palestinian terrorists, the so-called Black September group, have killed all the Israeli athletes they were holding hostage at the Munich Olympic games…” 

Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal) began writing his debut novel Black Sunday after watching television coverage of the hostage crisis in Munich.  A disgruntled Vietnam veteran, who pilots blimps over NFL games, conspires with a Black September terrorist to launch a suicide attack in the United States. With a bomb made of plastique and a quarter of a million steel darts, he aims to detonate the explosive during the half time celebrations at the Super Bowl in New Orleans. It was the first modern adventure story I read as teenager.

BBC news headline: The Somali Islamist group al-Shabab has said it was behind twin blasts which hit the Ugandan capital Kampala on Sunday, killing 74 people.” 

I was half-way through writing the manuscript for my first novel, a thriller set in the Congo, and not yet thinking about a second. But the attack in Kampala brought the conflict in Somalia to my doorstep. 

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni called the terrorists “backward and cowardly” and vowed to deal with the authors of this crime. “It will have to be peace enforcement to bring peace to Somalia.”

My girlfriend Sandra and I ventured into Kabalagala to witness the aftermath of the horror inflicted by jihadist. And as we sat down for lunch across the street from the Ethiopian restaurant where the first attack occurred, our waiter told of coming to work and finding a human limb in the gutter.  

Another deadly menace dominating the headlines at the time, also emanating from the Horn of Africa, was Somali pirates. They had attacked hundreds of ships passing through the Gulf of Aden, hijacked dozens, collected hundreds of millions in ransom money, and it seemed nothing was being done to stop “the pirate kings of Puntland,” as one alJazeera headline described them. 

When pirates hijacked the Maersk Alabama taking Captain Phillips hostage, a former CIA agent asked, “Where is the CIA? Where is the humint effort in Somalia? Where is the covert action capability of the CIA that should be on the ground in Somalia, collecting, pressuring, attacking, and destroying pirate infrastructure?”

But there are two sides to the story. While fishing in Kenya in October 2010 I learned tuna stocks had recently bounced back, because the threat of piracy had effectively deterred all foreign trawlers from coming anywhere near the western shores of the Indian Ocean. 

It occurred to me that although unscrupulous and lawless, compared to the jihadists the pirates were in many ways the good guys. Yet the international community was using the same blunt instrument to deal with them both: Reaper drones. I wanted to write a story that showed how these two groups were diametrically opposed, and decided on a plot that pitted pirate against jihadist.

Research confirmed that since the 1980s European and Asian trawlers had been illegally fishing in Somali waters, drastically depleting tuna stocks, and off the shore of Puntland at the tip of the Horn of Africa the Italian mafia had dumped tonnes of toxic waste

Grave injustices had been committed against Somalia, in particular against the good people of Puntland. Yet, despite decades of illegal plundering of Somali coastal waters, the international maritime community only started paying attention after fishermen took up piracy. 

There was one notable exception. In 2000, with the help of British company Hart Security Maritime Services, the Puntland coast guard was established. Some twelve-hundred fisherman were trained in maritime security tactics: how to track illegal fishing trawlers, approach vessels undetected, board without ladders. But shortly after they began patrolling their waters, the Puntland government tore up Hart’s contract in favour of a Dubai-based operation, which eventually ran the service into the ground. 

Soon there were hundreds of highly-trained coast guardsmen out of work, loitering in coves along the coast of the Horn of Africa, watching their fish stocks continue to plummet, and waters get polluted, for which no one was being held accountable. No wonder they turned to piracy. (And no wonder Hart Security today provides much of the maritime security for ships passing through the Gulf of Aden.) 

Meanwhile, a much darker story was unfolding on the Horn of Africa. Without significant rainfall in four years, Somalia was quickly becoming gripped by famine. Al-shabaab-held territories were worst hit, as the Islamists refused to accept foreign aid and the United States refused to provide it. 

In August 2010, the United Nations estimated twenty-nine thousand children under the age of five had died in southern Somalia and 3.7 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance across the country. 

 “The scale of the crisis is unprecedented in many ways,” said Rashid Abdi, an analyst for the International Crisis Group. “The closest example you have is the 1984 famine in Ethiopia.”

I had spent five months in Ethiopia during the latter half 1985, and witnessed first-hand the effects of famine. While working as a press officer for Catholic Relief Services, I visited one refugee camp in the Afar region where I met a woman whose task it was to weigh babies to determine if they were too far gone for supplemental feeding. I remember thinking at the time that there could be no more distressing a job in the entire world. 

In 2011, as hundreds of thousands of Somalis fled the famine in Lower Shabelle, Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya swelled beyond capacity. I decided Kakuma, which meant “nowhere” in Swahili, would be the setting for my early chapters. Unable to visit in person, I researched everything I could about the camp online, accounts by refugees who’d been trapped there for over a decade, day-in-the-life videos made with funding from well-meaning aid agencies, and countless articles in the Kakuma News Reflector, “a refugee free press.” 

I made two road trips that greatly influenced my story line. The first was to the Kenyan capital for the Easter long-weekend. Sandra and I checked into the Fairview on Nairobi Hill, owned by my friend Charles Szlapak, and spent hours lounging under giant jacaranda trees on the hotel’s luxuriantly shady grounds, sipping Tusker beer while carefully observing how Mossad agents from the Israeli embassy across the road maintained security. I subsequently used it as the backdrop for a pivotal scene in Pirates in which I try to demonstrate the ruthlessness of al-Shabaab.

Next stop Kidepo Valley in northern Uganda, an otherworldly place that has to be seen to be believed. We arrived just in time to witness July’s lunar eclipse at N’ga Moru lodge on the edge of the national park, a superb spot run by Lyn Jordaan and Patrick Devy.  By 10 pm the event had begun. Sitting by the fire, Lyn, Patrick, our driver Sam, Sandra, and I watched the heavens transform as the Moon, like a Hobnob dipped in coffee, turned umber then faded to black. It was the darkest night in a hundred years, but I’d never seen so many stars.

While stargazing, it occurred to me - as it does in Pirates to Derek Strangely - that Kakuma refugee camp is located just across the border barely a hundred kilometres away. I asked Patrick if it was possible to walk the distance. “Not without getting shot by a Turkana,” he laughed. 

“Nothing Strangely couldn’t handle,” I thought. But I was wrong. My safari guide would be incapable of making such a journey without a good deal of cajoling and a cash incentive. Enter Johnny Oceans, a name I’d first heard mentioned while tuna fishing off the coast of Kenya the year before.

Derek and Johnny were seated beside an excellent fire at the base of a small granite kopje overlooking Kidepo Valley National Park, in northeastern Uganda. They’d flown up on a private single-engine that Johnny Oceans had chartered, which landed them in Kidepo Airfield, where they were met by park staff who chauffeured them to a camping site at the foot of a kopje. 

“I’ve been to some spectacular places in my lifetime,” sighed Johnny, “but this is the shit!” Derek just nodded. Words could not express the way he felt about this particular East African wilderness. The sun was setting and the fiery light of dusk had transformed the valley into a son et lumière, recalling the time millions of years ago when it was a cataclysmic inferno, venting the planet’s burning mantle through a cluster of volcanoes.

“Except in the far reaches of the imagination,” said Derek, “no one would ever believe this place existed. It’s as if those volcanoes got up and danced around until they all keeled over with exhaustion. And this is how they were found: burnt out and contorted on the Mesozoic dance floor.” He poured himself a double shot of Wild Turkey into a cut-glass tumbler filled with ice, and then said, “Right, Johnny Oceans. You owe me an epic, and it better be a good one.” - Pirates by Greg Cummings

With Johnny Oceans I had a strong, enigmatic hero, seemingly capable of standing up to the threat of radical Islamism in Puntland and cattle raiders in northern Kenya. But Pirates needed a heroine to speak out against the nihilism in Somalia. 

Khadija Abdul Rahman was a challenging character to write. Named after an impressive matriarch I’d met, the mother of Sandra’s best friend Fatuma, I knew she had to be inspirational. Social networks provided ample evidence of single-minded Somali women who were fed up with the state of affairs in their country. And I found inspiration in the outspoken Dutch-Somali activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. More importantly I was surrounded by strong women, and across the Arab world they were also making themselves known

In Pirates Khadija walks a fine line between her religion and culture as she tries to quash the brutal, clannish behaviour of her country men. She is forced to act after jihadists attempt to recruit her teenage son Nadif in his madrasa. 

To understand how her boy could be attracted to radical Islam, I researched the Salafs perspective on everything, including fishing. This led to a chapter in which Nadif and his pirate uncle Maxamid fish together off the tip of the Horn of Africa. 

It was hard to get my hands on suitable books. But I managed to reread Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, studying his legendary pelagic battle in fine detail. 

The Somali Pirate, a autobiographical tale by Noor Fayrus of the Darod clan, was a surprise discovery. It is a delicate, heartbreaking story, told from the heart by a thoughtful writer, a fisherman who had personally experienced the grief and revenge. 

When it came to shaping Omar and al-Rubaysh, Pirates’s conspiring antagonists, by far my most useful reference was The African Jihad: Bin Laden’s Quest for the Horn of Africa by Gregory Alonso Pirio, which I found in a Nairobi bookstore. Much of the background information I needed for these unseemly characters was in that book: Bin Laden's power brokering in Khartoum, the events leading up to Black Hawk Down, and how the Islamic Courts, the only authority that had managed to restore any semblance of law and order in Somalia, was forced to relinquish power under pressure from the US and Ethiopia. Its demise resulted in the formation of al-Shabaab.

By the end of September 2011, as Kenya prepared to invade Somalia, I had written the first two chapters, and a seven thousand word synopsis that I scarcely altered while writing the manuscript. On the strength of this, Cutting Edge Press offered me a publishing contract for Pirates

But there were still two further news stories to come that would prove most pivotal to the plot: in February “Al-Shabab 'join ranks' with al-Qaeda” and in April “Somalia's al-Shabab Islamists move north into Puntland”. Still, these stories did not necessitate any changes to my novel, as I had already seen them coming.

We will part the sea as Musa did with his mighty staff, for the glory of Allah, reestablish the bond between our great continents in the name of global jihad.” - Pirates by Greg Cummings.

Available as an ebook on Amazon:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Forgedaboudit!: How I Came To Write Pirates

It’s ten o’clock at night. Unseen in the viridescent shadows, half a dozen Masai askaris and two Rottweiler are patrolling the grounds of Bobby Cellini’s Malindi home. The two-storey rococo mansion is lit up by coloured spotlights that cast ferny shadows across its rustic ochre walls. Palm fronds nudge up against the terra-cotta roof tiles, rustling in a warm Swahili breeze that blows up from the coast.

Seated at a long glass dining table in a outdoor gazebo by his swimming pool, the seventy year-old American patriarch is holding court with his daughter Daniela Cellini, her artist friend Alexandra, nephew Jody Baker, and me. We’ve just eaten an exquisite meal of Wahoo steaks brushed with rosemary branches dipped in olive oil and tied together with a clove of garlic in between. Now comes dessert. “Greg, when was the last time you had Key lime pie?” asks Bobby, as a slice is placed in front of me.

“Way too long,” I sigh pushing my fork through its firm meringue mantle, soft creamy centre and crispy biscuit crust. After tasting a morsel I gasp. “Damn, that’s the best Key lime pie I’ve ever tasted.”

Bobby smiles at me, nods, then shuts his eyes. I want to ask him about incorporating my gorilla safaris into junkets for his casino clients but the opportunity has passed. Jody, who suggested I pitch the idea, senses my disappointment, leans in closer and says, “Forgedaboudit.”

I first met Jody Baker in the highlands of Rwanda one chilly September morning in 2009. He and his wife Renata, who was seven-and-a-half months pregnant and about to trek mountain gorillas, were standing outside the headquarters of Volcanoes national park, observing the chaos created by half a dozen inflexible park rangers trying to organise four dozen foreigners. 

Among the high-paying mzungus eager to start trekking, three stood out: a middle-aged man and his two teenage boys. Outfitted to the teeth in elaborate and expensive khaki safari gear - two hiking poles each, knee-high black gators, and mosquito-net hats - my clients were impossible to miss.

As Jody recalls, “They wore pith helmets equipped with solar panels to power their attached forehead fans. I made eye contact with their mzungu guide, another sideline observer. He had a look I recognised: one who is well Africanized, knows the ropes, and can afford to pull some strings. He had already made his moves, like me he was just waiting for the confusion to die down.”


I have only ever met a handful of kindred spirits in my life. Each time we instantly hit it off, shared a mutual acceptance of each other that transcended all other aspects our lives, except maybe a common appreciation of cannabis. That’s how it was with Jody and me. Within minutes of our meeting we were lamenting the dearth of a decent smoke in East Africa, and both somehow knew we’d end up being life-long friends.

Three days later I ran into him again in a hotel lobby near Kigali airport. He and his very expectant wife were about to fly to home to Miami to prepare for their baby’s birth. My clients had just departed, and I was planning to drive back to Kampala the next day. After exchanging emails, we promised we'd stay in touch.

In the year that followed each of our lives got seriously revised. Jody became a father for the first time. “My little boy is awesome,” he said in a Facebook chat with me, “the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Childbirth is nasty but amazing!”

I met Sandra Richardson, the love of my life. “An amazing woman,” I told Jody, “We’re putting all we got into this relationship.”

Sandra moved into my apartment in Kampala and, after reading the manuscript I’d been working on for three years, pointed out several worthwhile ways it could be polished up. Her suggestions vastly improved the story arc and made the characters much more believable. I realised I’d met my muse, and over the next few months, with her help, struggled to complete my debut novel, Gorillaland. At the end of August 2010, on the strength of the first ten chapters, Martin Hay of Cutting Edge Press called me from London with the offer of a publishing deal. "Bo yakka!"

In the euphoria that followed, I wrote to Jody. “When are you back in East Africa? When can we get this groove on? Sandra and I need a break from Uganga! The Swahili Coast has all that spicy, salty, seductive, smiling, fruit-fried, frangipani, sweet mimosa, underwater turquoise style going on...”

“Great timing, younger brother!” he wrote back. “I sold a property and am supposed to be in Malindi in October. I am making arrangements now. I'll probably stay there a week or so. You're very welcome!”

We’re sailing 17 miles off the Kenyan Coast aboard Albatross, Jody’s 33 foot Black Fin Express, fishing over a canyon in the Malindi-Watamu bank with a spread of nine lines trailing from her stern. The sun is pegging and all around us fish are jumping: wahoo, swordfish, tuna.

Suddenly a line screams off its reel. “You’ve got a strike!” snaps Jody, handing me the rod. I struggle to take control, grappling with the method and muscle required. All the while I’m being hurled instructions from above and behind: “Feed the line!” “Let the pole do the work!” “Don’t let your line touch the boat!” “You can’t take a break now!” Eventually I get the hang of it and am rocking and reeling like a pro, dragging a monster up from the deep.

It feels like I’ve been fighting for hours, though it can only have been 20 minutes, and I want to give up for the ache in my left arm, but I know I have to see this through to completion. Finally I spot him, shimmering below the ocean surface, a sizeable tuna fish, still fighting hard. I put all my strength into reeling it in those last five meters. When the fish is at last close enough, the boatman leans over the edge and hooks it with a gaffer.

Boo yakka!” I shout, staggering back from the gunwale in sheer delight, breathless, bone-tired, and dripping in sweat from the fight. The boatman hauls my yellowfin aboard and immediately bleeds it with a long knife.

With its vivid silver and black markings, a turquoise stripe down its side, and bright yellow fins and finlets, it’s a beautiful creature to behold - weighing at least 25 kilogrammes. And despite my role in its brutal demise, nothing can contain my excitement at seeing this yellowfin at my feet. “You can’t be a Tuna Murdra without getting blood on the decks, mon!” laughs Jody. 

“Who’s the daddy?” asks Jody, triumphantly reeling in another mighty yellowfin, our fifth of the day. He’s an experienced angler and it shows; it takes him less than 10 minutes to bring in his tunny.

“Incredible,” I laugh, shaking my head. “So many fish!”

“You can thank the Somali pirates for that,” he says over his shoulder. “Since they started attacking ships around the Horn of Africa, tuna stocks on the Kenyan coast have shot up.”

BOOM! I did not realise it at the time, but right then a lure was dropped for my second novel. Another year would pass before I finally got a strike, figured out a suitable plot, but that was the moment the story began to develop, emerge from the deep.

“It doesn’t really say anything,except flat bottomed boats at posh universities!” said my agent Maggie Phillips. She was reacting to my title, Puntland. “If you are writing about Somali pirates – always in the news, apparently unstoppable – then you need to flag this up in the title. Baddies like this are fascinating, people want to read about them, so give them a chance to realise what your book is about!”

World events were influencing my storyline: the Arab Spring, the death of Osama bin Laden, the alliance of al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula, and the crack down by the maritime community on Somali pirates. Adding to that, I had visited Kidepo Valley in northern Uganda and found the ideal setting for the opening chapters.

The strike came during one of Kampala’s regular power cuts. Sandra and I were sitting under a starflower tree, discussing the plot, what motivates Somali pirates, and batting around real current affairs, when she came up with a plot twist that I knew would grab every reader by the short and curlies. "Bo Yakka!"

With a worthy plot, in-depth storyline, and cast of intriguing characters, I wrote a detailed outline, chapter-by-chapter - the synopsis for Pirates, sent it off to Maggie and Martin, and thereafter secured my second publishing contract, with a deadline to complete the manuscript by April 2012.

Johnny Oceans, Pirates’s enigmatic hero, is a maverick Italian-American from South Florida with a background in dope smuggling. In 1998 while working on the Kenyan coast in the family’s gaming business he was abducted by pirates. Eventually he settled in Somalia, converted to Islam, changed his name to Mehmet Abdul Rachman, and married a beautiful Darod woman. But nothing is what it seems.

The novel’s indomitable heroine is a chain-smoking, skinny-jeans wearing, forty-something Somali woman who happens to be the hero’s wife. Inspired by the women of the Arab Spring, Khadija Abdul Rachman urges her fellow Somalians, through Twitter and Facebook, to put aside their clannish ways and stand up against the rising tide of Islamic jihad in Somalia.

Enter the reluctant protagonist, safari guide Derek Strangely who crosses over from my first novel Gorillaland. After a perilous journey into Puntland, he comes up against Khadija’s mercurial brother Maxamid, a Somali pirate who dislikes foreigners. Meanwhile, behind the scenes Ali al-Rubaysh, a veteran jihadist now commander in al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula, plots a terror attack on America more devastating than 9/11.

In a barren province of a troubled desert land deemed a failed state, Pirates pits pirate against jihadist. While the outside world believes the situation as hopeless, brave men and women strive to solve the Gordian knot that is the Horn of Africa.

“How goes Johnny O?” asked Jody. “You inspired? I'm headed to Kenya around the 20th for about a month, Diani - Malindi. Chillin'. Hugs.”

“Been writing like a whirling dervish,” I replied. “Long hours, and I’m not paying much attention to anything else. When you heading down this way? My folks would love to do a trade - their place in Cabo in exchange for your place in Malindi.”

“I just spent $18,000 on the place in Malindi, paint, pool, everything - I'll get pictures soon. They are welcome to my house anytime. Trade or no trade ;) Fuhgetaboutid…”

Jody kept me on point, suggesting weapons and equipment Johnny Oceans might use. By way of our regular conversations, he also gave me the correct vernacular for my hero. I wrote the majority of the manuscript in San Jose del Cabo, Baja, Mexico. Working in a desert environment with waves constantly pounding the shore was a boon to the story (and considerably safer than visiting Somalia). And the support of my parents, in particular my mother, provided me with all the encouragement I needed to get the job done in time.

Meanwhile my muse was back in Uganda, trying to make ends meet on $100 a week. It’s only now, after living through comparably lean times that I understand how much she suffered to ensure there was a home waiting for me back in Africa. I love you Kigongo.

It’s December 2012, eight months past my deadline. I’m on a leaky ship, struggling to put the finishing touches on my manuscript before I sink. World events are getting ahead of me. Kenya has invaded Somalia, al-Shabaab is in retreat, Egypt is in turmoil, the Arab Spring has turned cold, and piracy has been effectively vanquished from the Horn of Africa.

Penniless, shackled to my writing desk in a remote, dusty neighbourhood of Kampala, I have nothing to distract me from the task at hand. I’m working day and night. And no matter how bare the cupboard, at least once a day Sandra puts a square meal in front of me.

Two final hurdles remain: a convincing climax and Johnny Oceans backstory. I’ve modelled him on a living person and wonder how best I can reconcile that in a work of fiction. I voice my concerns to Jody.

Greg Cummings: “I haven't yet figured on where Oceans is from. At the moment I'm using his actual back story, with a twist. But I think I will change that. Don't need them getting pissed with me…”

Jody Baker: “Not to worry, they'd call me ;)”

Greg Cummings: “If you say so…”

Jody Baker: “In Godfather II, when Hyman Roth (Meyer Lansky) is discussing the split up of Havana, he gives the casino to the ‘Levini brothers, Eddie and Dino’. Watch that part of the movie where he is talking to Michael Corleone on the rooftop of a Havana hotel…” 

Subsequently Jody sent a chapter to his uncle in Malindi.

Jody Baker: “I don't think Uncle Bobby is happy about what I forwarded him but you know what… all that shit is already on the internet and the rest is fiction.”

Greg Cummings: “Should I worry?”

Jody Baker: “No - it's a work of fiction, artistic license and all that... It's funny, a black comedy. Good publicity.”

The trouble with writing action adventure stories that are set in the present day is that the latitudes keep moving. At some point the author must decide what makes a gripping yarn and disregard the rest, but a well-told story that cuts closer to the facts is undoubtedly more riveting. Writing Pirates on three continents in as many years was almost as much a roller coaster ride as the story itself. I believe it’s an audacious tale. Inspired by the oceans, I hope it will appeal to as wide an audience.

See for yourself. Read the book. Enjoy the adventure! It's at least as good as Uncle Bobby's Key lime pie.


"I owe you a debt of gratitude, older brother."
"Nah, younger brah, you owe me nothing. But if this book's a bestseller I want a '58 Cadillac ragtop...Capisce?"

Monday, November 11, 2013

Hang In there Phil...

Last Saturday night, my friend Phil was on his way back home from Minister's Village in north Kampala, riding on the back of a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) when Roge, the boda driver, swerved to avoid a dog, which sent the bike off the road, throwing Phil off the back. He was then run over by another boda driver. Roge sustained minor injuries, but Phil is in intensive care on a life support system. (Hang in there, mate!)

Phillip Barnard, a soft-spoken, middle-aged Englishman with a full head of grey hair and an engaging smile (looks a bit like comedian Eric Sykes but without the glasses) is an old Africa hand who's been doing various jobs on the continent since the 1970s. Unlike most mzungus (white people) in Uganda, Phil socialises with all races and has many friends, evident in the outpouring of sympathy today on Facebook. He has enriched our lives.

Trouble in Paradise

Last week I was drinking in Corner Bar, a local kafunda (small beer joint) in Minister's Village, when Phil arrived wearing his signature Formula One jacket (in dire need of a dry clean). "All right Greg?" he asked, offering me a cigarette as is cockney custom. He then ordered a round of beers (a half-litre bottle costs $1.40 or 87p) and over the next hour we compared African bush stories and laughed at the anarchic way things are run in deepest darkest. 

One thing Phil and I have always agreed upon was that the anathema of African corruption, lawlessness, and lack of opportunity was simply the flip side to a warm and pleasant land where things are cheap and no one can find us. "It's a low-key, hassle-free existence," said Phil, "accentuated by small pleasures." 

In time we were joined by other friends, Rastafarians from the neighbourhood, and as spliffs began to blaze, the conversation spun off into many new threads, like the flight paths of a swarm of weaver birds.

At sunset, when a warm evening breeze blew through the bar, drunk on cheap liquor and weed (though Phil never touched the stuff), we wallowed in our self-satisfaction but none of us dared face up to the cold truth, the horrible price paid by innocents. Rather we each chose to turn a blind eye to the unpleasantness: the mentally ill roaming the streets of Kampala, hit-and-run drivers never brought to justice, vigilantes setting upon suspected thieves and burning them alive, and hawk-eyed homophobes. 

Like Phil, I live here in exile from a previous life, and I'm struggling to build a new one, putting down new roots. There are real hardships to endure: regular power cuts, poorly maintained roads, and a lack of safe public transport. But even if I did possess a car, the traffic is so dire that I would spend half my time in gridlock. Hence I move around town on the back of motorcycles, write about it in my novels. 

Friends who own cars think I'm insane to do so, and I'm regularly lectured about the dangers. But at rush hour I can shift from my home to my local kafunda in a matter of minutes, and for the price of a beer.

Riding on the back of boda's, drinking in local kafunda's, this is the lifestyle of a 'flip-flop mzungu', two steps down from the 'contract mzungu' who pub-crawls every night of the week, bingeing in one expensive establishment after another before finally going home cockeyed at the wheel a 4x4, and three steps down from the 'cocktail mzungu' who only socialises in Kololo's leafy, palatial residences with corporate types, politicians and diplomats. 

When I first arrived in Uganda, I had the lifestyle of an 'NGO mzungu', living off donor money and travelling everywhere in the staff car. Now I'm soon to become a 'lost mzungu', one who's never seen in public and only drinks at home alone. Staying home is not easy to endure, especially during power cuts. And for all their faults Ugandans are a highly gregarious people, I share their need to connect. Phil's the same. That's why I usually found him at Corner Bar when I dropped in for 'one-one'.

He'd recently pulled himself out of a financial debacle by running events for Formula One motor racing - promotional drinking sessions in swanky Kampala venues that could showcase the races on a bank of widescreen TVs - and chose not to squander his earnings on trying to step back up again in Uganda's mzungu community. Tonight he's paying a heavy price.

Phil's wife and two small children are at his bedside and his only son in the UK has been informed of his accident. The neurosurgeon on duty in the ICU has declared him brain dead with virtually no hope of recovery. But the hospital doesn't want to make that call, and is waiting for two more neurosurgeons to arrive from the city's main hospital this evening. (Hang in there mate!). 

What the fuck?

Earlier this year I lost Alison, another friend, in a boda boda accident. I attended her sombre memorial, a large gathering of stunned friends at Fas Fas bar where they put up some of her paintings and projected slide after slide of a young, happy, gorgeous Mexican woman. "How could the life of such a vibrant person be cut so short?" was the thought on everyone's minds. "It's God's will," said one man. "No it's fucking not," I snapped, "it's the total lack of road safety in this country!" An argument then ensued and I walked away. 

I don't know where I got off being so righteous. It's not as though I stopped riding on the back of boda's after Alison's death. I must be insane. I used to believe the convenience outweighed the danger. Besides, I'll be safe with my regular driver Bozak, who's road-alert, never over speeds, and is a conscientious driver. (He's just heard about the accident, and called to make sure it wasn't me.) Time to make a change.

Living on the edge is one thing, senselessly risking one's life is quite another. There's no safety net in deepest darkest. If you fail, you're on your own. Friends and family in outside countries can only do so much. But like getting caught in a desert sand trap, it's punishing work trying to get out of that hole. One thing I'm learning is to not buck the trends. If there be dragons, take a different route. I'm old enough now to realise that there's no real currency in risky business.

Tonight I'm praying for a miracle, not because I believe it was ever God's will Phil be fighting for his life in a Kampala hospital ICU, but because every one else who knows him is praying. There's comfort in numbers... He's a good man, and the world is a better place for him being alive in it. God's will can only be that such a man survive, recover, live to hug his children again, and share another one-one with me and the Rastas at Corner Bar. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Jonny Gibbings' review of PIRATES

I'm not sure where to start with Greg Cummings 'Pirates', what I will say though, is it is a wonderful book. If you, like me, started out reading popular books that had a romping pace, the stuff like Robert Ludlum and Wilbur Smith and you loved the roller coaster plot, but soon got bored of them because they quickly lacked substance. So you started reading novels with more bite. Pirates has every bit the plot and pace of epic yarns but also has a unique depth and integrity, effortlessly weaving around serious issues and the politics of deepest Africa.

Pirates is the tale of a Safari guide and who happens upon his believed to be dead friend Jonny Oceans, who recruits him to help him re-enter Somalia. However things are not what they seem. The reader is taken through the Gulf of Aden, facing jihadists from Al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, a different understanding of Somali pirates and Somalia itself. I imagine many base their view on Somalia as I do on films such as Black Hawk Down and on news footage of AK-47 toting pirates. Greg shows us proud people fighting to keep Puntland independent in the face of growing pressure from Muslim extremists, through beautiful, tight t-shirt wearing, skinny jeans loving matriarch Kahdija. Where Pirates excels is that it uses real issues as plot points, not the plot itself. Greg has so many plot points that fragment, leaving you in suspense as you just know they are in a funnel and will all meet at a singular event. While there is real tension, and real issues, the story is all adventure and drama with some brilliantly funny parts. There are some far-fetched elements that are Indiana Jones over the top, such as the Vulture/drone bit, but you don't mind, simply as it is infused with such reality and drama that it balances it out. The story builds and builds to such a fantastic end once you have read through twist after twist. With US Navy drones, CIA Spy's, treasure, kidnap gunfights and romance. This is a brave book and Greg pulls it off, the result is simply staggering and a truly epic read.

Follow the buzz at Pirate Yarns:

Jonny Gibbings is the author of 'Malice in Blunderland' (Cutting Edge Press) and you can follow his blog here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Dark Side of the Earth

As the high-fidelity stereo arm gently touched down on the turntable, a diamond needle began tracking across a mint vinyl pressing. Wearing a pair of headphones bigger than my head, I heard a warmly pleasing sound: flawless, crystalline, entirely new to my ears. 

At first there was only a heartbeat, which I mistook to be my own it was so clear, then a voice followed by more voices, reverberating machinery, and a screaming that rose to a crescendo until suddenly one goodly chord rang out. And a young man sang, “Breathe, breathe in the air. Don’t be afraid to care…”

The record sleeve didn’t say much. Apart from a few liner notes, there wasn’t anything to look at, no photograph of the band, just a beam of light shining through a prism set against a plain black background. 

I couldn’t put it down. And over the next three quarters of an hour a medley of clever, bluesy tunes, each one about the lack of empathy in the modern world, kept me entranced. I was fourteen years old.

“Of minor significance was the simple, elegant layout against black. Standard textbook illustrations did not do this. Of greater significance was the art direction, or rather the fortuitous decision to listen to Rick Wright, who suggested we do something clean, elegant and graphic, not photographic - not a figurative picture. And then to connect this idea to their live show, which was famous for its lighting, and subsequently to connect it to ambition and madness, themes Roger was exploring in the lyrics...hence the prism, the triangle and the pyramids. It all connects, somehow, somewhere.”
Storm Thorgerson on the design of The Dark Side Of The Moon

On April 18th, after a long struggle with cancer, British graphic designer Storm Thorgerson died. He was 69. With his passing the world lost one of it’s most creative artists, the music business lost its best album designer, and I lost a friend. 

In a career spanning five decades he created over 300 album covers and imagined the dreams of a generation. He plumbed the psychic depths of rock and roll with weird runic pictographs and montages, images that became animated in our minds. He left a legacy we can pour over in solitude, two dimensional sculptures to hold and admire while the music they interpret fills our ears. 

His work with Pink Floyd, for which he’ll likely be best remembered, often involved conceiving and photographing elaborate ‘events’ that had been extrapolated from a single lyric on the record. 

Among his best work by his own reckoning is the design for Wish You Were Here, shot on location in California. It explores the abstraction of absence, a concept he returned to again in later designs. 

But now as I study his art I see only absence, of the extraordinary person with whom I had the good fortune of collaborating and forging an enduring friendship, and the artist who blew all our minds with graphic designs.

Don’t Walk Away Rene

Album artwork opened a door to great music for me. As a teenager growing up in Africa during the 1970s, I largely missed out on popular culture. LPs were hard to come by in socialist Dar-es-Salaam. There was just one record shop, a dusty, desolate downtown establishment owned by a wiry Indian merchant who stocked only Bollywood soundtracks. 

Occasionally he’d stock Top of the Pops compilations. These turned out to be fraudulent. The scantily-clad dolly-bird on the cover, done up like a bag of chips,  should have been warning enough. Inside was collection of songs by anonymous acts that mimicked the original hits. So instead of ‘Ballroom Blitz’ by The Sweet or ‘Son of My Father’ by Chicory Tip you got an imitation of a song that was not particularly good to begin with. This was teenage hell.

Not before I returned to Montreal on home leave did I get to hear the greats as they were meant to be heard, on my cousin’s high-end stereo. He had converted his basement into a progressive rock cave, painting the walls black and plastering them with dark posters of long-haired brooding rock bands. “Here, check this out,” he said, placing a pair of headphones on my head. And so it began.

That’s how I discovered Hipgnosis, who were credited with designing most of the albums I liked. Accordingly I picked up a copy of ‘Walk Away René’: The Work of Hipgnosis (Paper Tiger, 1978), an illustrated coffee-table book of their creations from the previous decade. The company was a collaboration between art school film graduates Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, Peter Christopherson, and Storm Thorgerson. Before you knew it I was a Hipgnosis groupie.

The Eye of the Storm

“When asked what I personally do I reply in a variety of ways. For Her Majesty’s Customs I am a photographer. For the music press - a graphic designer. For film people I’m a director. For my mother an artist! For my loved ones, a pain in the butt. Sarcastic musicians see me as an organising ponce who doesn’t do much actual work. True believers, i.e. employees, however, know I make images. I think of ideas, often in collaboration, and turn them into tangible visuals, be they still photographs or movies.” 
- Storm Thorgerson, Mind Over Matter

After Hipgnosis disbanded, Storm Thorgerson continued working solo from a studio in Belsize Park. With the advent of the compact disc the music business had gone through a dramatic transformation. The switch from vinyl required a shrinkage in packaging. Record companies were no longer prepared to throw money at an album’s design and gone were the days of expensive location shoots in Morocco and doing things by hand. Still, there were plenty of back catalogues that needed repackaging.

Pink Floyd remained Storm’s main client, though they hadn’t given him any new work in a decade. What reason did they have to record anything new with the royalties they were earning? The Dark Side of the Moon had become a ‘platinum monster’ spending over 700 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts.  

Thereafter the Floyd entered a super league. But with success behind them, the band members soon lost sight of why they had started playing tunes in the first place. This darkened their outlook and contributed to the bitter departure of bassist Roger Waters in 1986, as prophesied in his lyric fourteen years earlier: “And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the Moon.

Such was their inertia that whole generations passed between the Floyd’s trips to the studio. All those connected to the band, the so-called Cambridge Mafia who had been caught up in the eye of this phenomenal rock and roll storm since school days, soon starved. 

Although his designs contributed in no small way to the Floyd’s success, Storm was only ever paid a fee for his work on their albums. This caused some resentment, which he cheerily alludes to in his book Mind Over Matter (Sanctuary Publishing, 1997): 

Back in the mists of time, shortly after the release of The Dark Side of the Moon, Steve O’Rourke, fabled Floyd manager and Clark Kent lookalike, was walking down London’s fashionable Bond Street in a cheery mood. He put his arm around my shoulder and pointed out an expensive looking sports car and asked me why didn’t I have one of those. He knew of designers in LA who did, he added. I answered that I didn’t earn enough money. Come off it, he said. I might, I ventured tentatively, if the Floyd would pay me more - not that I’m complaining. He withdrew his arm. Not a chance, he said, and changed the subject. Bye bye sports car.”

Between Apes and Angels

“I don’t know many Hipgnosis groupies,” said Storm Thorgerson, tucking into his lamb shank. 

“You opened the door,” I said. “Back when I was building my record collection ‘Designed by Hipgnosis’ was my only hallmark.”

"You're too kind," said Storm. 

It was a sunny October afternoon in 1994 and I was lunching at Primates restaurant in Chalk Farm with my childhood hero. Our meeting was as a result of a science documentary Storm had produced for Equinox,The Rubber Universe, examining the Hubble constant. After watching it I'd contacted the production company who then put me in touch with him. 

“I don’t believe in charity,” said Storm. He wore a fixed expression of disinterest, which I soon discovered concealed a well of humanity. “If the gorillas need saving then it’s up to governments to pay for it. That’s why I pay taxes. Still, I am intrigued. Tell me more about this film you want me to make.” 

The year had begun well for the gorillas. Three years into a dazzling new career as executive director of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, where my wife Jillian was also a director, I was optimistic. We had started from scratch, promoting an obscure cause in a far-flung place, but the future looked bright. Our positions opened many doors, and we took advantage of every chance we got to promote the gorillas.

NASA, the American space agency, having reneged on an earlier agreement, had just confirmed it was reinstating us to its Mission to Planet Earth. Two flights of the space shuttle Endeavour, STS-59 and STS-64 scheduled for April and August were to use a highly sophisticated spacebourne imaging radar to obtain data of the planet’s environmental hot spots, including the gorilla habitat in central Africa. 

Then one night in January, as the lights came up in Ronnie Scott’s jazz club, I spotted ape actor Peter Elliot in the audience and went over to say hello. Peter was the first to hear about any ape movies in the studio pipelines. “Just the man I want to see,” he said, with a high-pitched, gravelly cockney lilt. “Paramount Pictures is making a movie of Michael Crichton’s book Congo. You need to get in touch with Sam Mercer.”

The next day I bought a copy of Congo and started reading it. I couldn’t believe the serendipity. Crichton’s story incorporated high-tech space imagery of central Africa’s gorilla habitats. Wasting no time, I let Paramount know about the planned shuttle missions. 

“The studio executives love the idea of using your radar images in their movie,” said Mercer when he called back the next day, “because they want authentic and are willing to pay your organisation $10,000 for the privilege.” 

By Hollywood standards this was chump change, but considering NASA’s images would end up in the public domain, it seemed a pretty good offer at the time.

At the end of March, just days before STS-59 was due to launch, Jillian and I flew from London to New Jersey to meet Scott Madry, head of the Remote Sensing Centre at Rutgers University, who had first thought of using spacebourne radar to penetrate misty gorilla habitats. Hollywood's Mike Backes, a Congo producer, flew in solely to join our meeting, as did the heads of our conservation project in Africa. 

Each of us was keen to capitalize on the publicity that two space shuttle missions and a new feature-length movie would bring to the gorillas. We had no idea about what was about to go down, in a ball of flames.

At the time few people had even heard of the green and hilly landlocked nation wherein we carried out our work protecting mountain gorillas. Even I’d seldom heard the place mentioned while growing up in Africa. Cartographers were never sure how to spell it. ‘Ruanda-Urundi’ as it was known during German colonial rule would sometimes turn up on modern maps. That it was the setting for Gorillas in the Mist was the extent of most people’s knowledge of Rwanda.

All that changed on April 6th 1994 after the Rwandan president’s plane got shot down and the country quickly descended into bloody anarchy. In an effort to wipe out an entire ethnic group, for the next hundred days bloodthirsty vigilante groups hacked to death hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children, in what became known as the Rwandan Genocide.

We feared the worst when we were unable to reach wildlife veterinarian Dr Louis Nzeyimana, who was trapped in Kigali with his wife and seven month-old baby. For the first few days we remained completely powerless. 

Meanwhile the space shuttle Endeavour was in orbit, doing what it was sent up to do, scanning the gorilla habitat. Astronaut Rich Clifford who was on board at the time recalls the operation. “Radar imagery of the gorilla enclave in Rwanda during the STS-59 mission proved the value of the Spaceborne Imaging Radar... Visual observations of the enclave during the mission were usually obscured by clouds or darkness. The imaging radar could ‘see’ through the obscuration and thus valuable information was obtained.” 

Although undetectable from space, and invisible in the resulting images, Endeavour’s radar could also ‘see’ the killing fields of Rwanda, where one of the most horrifying acts in human history was unfolding. Consequently NASA refused to give us the data fearing they may be accused of spying.  

Suddenly our little organisation was in the wrong place at the wrong time, trying to promote an obscure cause which seemed inappropriate during such a time for Rwandans. Gorilla conservationists argued that as incongruous as they may seem in the midst of war and genocide, these large charismatic mammals could one day be a boon to the effort to rebuild this country. And they were right.

It was one of the lowest points in my career. Often during office hours I would head to the local pub in the afternoon and start downing whiskeys. 

But my dramas were of no account compared to the human suffering in Rwanda. On the Friday morning after the bloodshed began, Louis Nzeyimana finally reached me by phone from the hotel Mille Collines (later immortalised in the movie Hotel Rwanda). 

“I’m taking my family,” he said, voice quivering as he struggled with his English, “and we are fleeing Kigali today in the 4x4 vehicle.”

“Where will you go?” I asked.

“To Goma,” he replied, “in Zaire, where hopefully we can get on a plane to Nairobi.”

“Listen," I said. "There’s an eight-week conservation education course starting in the Cotswolds next month. I’ll enroll you and hopefully that will enable all three of you to get UK visas.” 

It seemed an impossible journey, along a road littered with dead bodies and barricaded with more than sixty road blocks manned by murder-drunk vigilantes. Louis was from the right tribe but his wife was not, though her papers stated otherwise. And although she was uncharacteristically petit, his tallness made him suspect to pig-ignorant vigilantes. At times it was only the gorilla logo on the side of the charity’s car that saved them, provoking cheers of solidarity from genociders who then allowed them to pass. 

It took them ten hours to drive 200 kilometres. They crossed the border at 6 o’clock arriving at Goma International Airport barely in time to make the last flight out. 

I called the British High Commission in Nairobi and convinced them to issue Louis and his family visas on a Saturday, which kept immigration off their backs when they arrived at Heathrow the following morning. I’ll never forget the look of utter release on the Nzeyimanas' faces as they pushed through the gates. They lived with us for the next month in our small council flat in north London, and I never once saw her put that baby down. They never returned to Rwanda. 

Meanwhile gorilla patron Arthur C. Clarke was urging the American space agency to hand over the habitat radar data, saying, “I’m sure if this information is released properly, it will bring the best possible publicity to Nasa.” 

NASA wrote back, “We are happy to report that data were successfully acquired on two passes over the site, on Orbit 58 and Orbit 171. Images have been processes at JPL for the first data take and will be transmitted to the research team at Rutgers for analysis… We look forward to attempting to image the Karisoke site on our second flight in August.”


“You mean you’ve never seen the Floyd in concert?” asked Storm, with perfect nonchalance. It was Saturday afternoon, the day after our lunch at Primates, and he had called me at home.

“No, never,” I replied.

“Tonight’s their last performance at Earl’s Court,” he said. “There’ll be an access all areas pass waiting for you at the door.” 

I gasped. I had just been invited to the inner sanctum of a rock phenomenon that famously walled itself off from its fans. My excitement grew as I rode the Tube into town and a cascade of images from the band’s discography came to mind: a cow standing in the English countryside / a man diving into water without causing a ripple / rays of light / cathedrals / a floating pig / balls / coins / ticking clocks - every one a Storm Thorgerson invention.

Kensington High Street, one stop before my destination, where the band’s loyal following began in 1965 after they performed at the Countdown Club. An obscure sometimes frightening manifestation of the new psychedelic culture, the Floyd would play until dawn, set after set of eccentric rhythm and blues songs extended with lengthy solos and accompanied by mind-blowing light shows. 

While fame did not grow overnight a seed was certainly sewn, or rather a magic bean, for when it did appear it was colossal. To date the Pink Floyd have sold more than 250 million records worldwide.

Expecting the clouds to part, I gazed upward as I emerged from the Underground. Masses of people were queuing outside the venue. After a record thirteen nights at Earls Court tickets were a premium for this final performance of one of rock’s most monumental acts. 

Eventually I located the stage door where I was meant to pick up my pass and stood in line with Mike Rutherford, the bassist from Genesis. Smiling, I said, “Loved your album Smallcreep’s Day.” He smiled back.

Uncertain what an AAA pass meant at first, I quickly discovered I could to go absolutely anywhere. Soon I was backstage watching a roadie hand spool a 70 millimetre film to be back-projected onto a giant circular screen behind the band on stage, for ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’.  

After a whole set of greats, the band broke for intermission. I wandered around the vast venue holding a plastic pint glass full of lager and whenever the whim took me, swanned through barricades manned by surly bouncers who never so much as batted an eyelid at me. I was astounded by the number of eighteen-wheeler trucks parked indoors behind the stage. 

Then I heard it - a heartbeat followed by voices, machinery - and I hurried back. An unexpected treat: for the first time in many years Pink Floyd was performing The Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety. 

Storm had decamped to the mixing desk with the rest of the Cambridge Mafia, but I spent the duration of the concert riveted to the stage, standing amidst fifty thousand enthralled fans, transfixed by Rock’s supreme son et lumière. I had been waiting for this moment for twenty years. And I got to tell this to the band in person after the show. ("C'mon it's time to go...")


“What’s the point of having a dream team if you’re not prepared to fucking listen to them?” scoffed Storm. It was the following Spring and we were making a short film together, a goodwill message from Arthur C. Clarke to be shown at the London premiere of Congo. It wasn’t the film I had originally envisioned Storm making, but there wasn’t any money for that.

With Clarke’s greeting from Sri Lanka in the can, he now wanted to shoot a closeup of the author’s books but I objected to the additional cost. Storm did not back down. After thirty years of explaining his vision to music industry morons, he was hardly going to yield to a neophyte like me. Moreover he was my hero. “Alright!” I said, “we’ll do it your way.”

The next morning, I carted a stack of science fiction paperbacks down to King Studios in Soho and found him at the controls of a 35 millimetre rostrum camera, which had been designed to animate still objects. Silently, between sips of tea, he arranged the books on a table beneath the camera, then rolled the film and slowly panned the books. Moving diagonally and capturing every tear and dog-eared corner, he told an unexpected story, different than what was written in the books, or I had envisaged. It was freaking alchemy.

We became good friends. His studio in Belsize Park was a mere ten-minute walk from my office, and I’d often visit and watch him work. I loved listening to his stories and found his mordant sense of humour an antidote to the terrible things that were happening in my life. He shone a light.

My chance to return the favour came on New Year’s Day 2001. Storm was writing a book called ‘The Book of Black Things’ and wanted Arthur C. Clarke to write the forward. Arthur was in London on a rare visit to Britain. He'd come for a special screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey at the National Film Theatre, a new 70mm print with digitally remastered sound.  

After the screening we were invited to meet Arthur at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. He wasn't feeling too energetic and chose to receive us upstairs in his suite. Brother Fred ushered us into the room. There beneath plush covers, a stack of satin pillows propped up behind his magnificent bespectacled head, was the world’s greatest futurist, cracking asides with pinch-me-I’m-famous incredulity. 

“I feel as though there should be a monolith in the room,” quipped Arthur with his arm outstretched, aping the rapidly ageing Dave Bowman in the penultimate scene of 2001.

Arthur agreed to Storm’s request for a forward, though in the end ‘The Book of Black Things’ was never published.

Subject: Re: jungle love

hi greg

my my its you
didnt know you'd left gorillaville
but not before time i guess

why uganda?

glad to hear about writing...keep at it
if it were easy everybody would do it

my life has been plagued with illness
first the stroke rendered me disabled
a barrel of laughs to be sure

take care

With Storm’s passing there remains only absence, a sustained chord searching for accompaniment, as palpable as his creations, the perplexing album sleeves he designed, the superfantastic films he made, the larger-than-rock events he staged, from Marrakech to Battersea, proving pigs can fly. 

He was a pillar of strength to me when the temple came tumbling down around me. He understood that there is a dark side to everything but that it’s not all dark. 

Shine on Storm!