The fabled city of Timbuktu, once the dazzling commercial and intellectual capital of the Songhay empire, is now just another impoverished desert town on the adventure holiday trail for affluent Western tourists. From Here to Timbuktu follows the fortunes of a group of tourists as they make their way by 4x4 and pinasse across the Mali desert. Cash–rich and time–poor, they want 'to see where life is raw.' Like Chaucer's pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, these travellers pass the time bickering, gossiping, flirting and falling out, eventually sharing the stories of their lives with humour and pathos. Written in Chaucer's rime royal, From Here to Timbuktu is a book about Third World poverty and First World consumption. It's a travelogue, a satire, an epic poem, and a journey across the savannah in a four–wheel drive from here – to Timbuktu.
When Europe groans with the sullen weight Of winter clouds and frozen naked trees And noonday sky is washed in lemon light, We long to follow where the southern breeze Lifts the swallows over lakes and seas To where the sky spreads cobalt blue Like a wedding sheet round Timbuktu. The endless pressures of our working lives Stifle us. We dream and long to free Ourselves of children, husbands, wives So for a hefty sum the company Will sort adventure holidays in Mali With tents and porters, cooks and guides Across savannah in a four–wheel drive. We're tourists from a range of English Speaking countries. We journey far Beyond the ordinary because we're rich Enough to travel through the Sahara And sneer at holidays that we'd think kitsch And commonplace. No, that just won't do; We'll grin and bear the road to Timbuktu. We seem somewhat exhausted and time–poor. We obey the gods of work and earning cash But now we want to go where life is raw And take a little risk, be slightly rash, Drink palm wine and maybe smoke some hash. We'll see how people live at slower speeds And question our exaggerated needs. The Mali women sway in dazzling colour Gowns as if they owned the dusty ground They walk on. Songhai, Peul and Fula, Bambara and Dogon – we'll hear the sound Of many ancient languages but dollars, Euros, pounds and francs will speak for us As we're driven in our air–conditioned bus. Annoyingly our airplane is delayed; We get at first to know each other's names And countries and those who'd irritate And those who'd play the shaky friendship game. We slowly learn some simple facts, no shame Or tragedies or traumas just the boring stuff Careers and cities lived in, that's enough. At last we take the Air France flight to Bamako. Our 4x4 takes us to Mandé hotel And we dine on French cuisine not local toh And wash it down with Chardonnay, chilled well. We're silent – spare with things to share and tell But there's swimming in the lamp–lit pool Where precious water's filtered fresh and cool. Finally we meet our guides so lean and fit; They're toned and tanned from all the treks. Inez, the skinny Spanish woman hits It off with all the men whose unruly sex Is stirred by her in shorts and stretchy vest. Dark–eyed, long–haired she's pretty and petite. She has a smile of white and sharpened teeth. Ben the other guide is English and polite. He'll jolly us along to hide the fact He hasn't done his homework and he's quite At sea on information. His friendly act Will charm us like his gentle sense of tact. 'Don't whine and whinge,' he'll say 'about your lot. You knew it would be suffocating hot.' So who is on this trip? From the US Rick's a lawyer from the sunshine state Who wears a cheap and uncool Walmart vest And Cubans are the people whom he hates. He takes on only cases that will make Him rich and is irritated that his taxes go To shiftless folk who live on welfare dough. He's fifty but he doesn't have a wife Just dates a string of pretty girl–friends But dumps them when he's bored – a fun–filled life Where thrilling pleasure doesn't have an end. Commitment free. Like an oyster you depend Upon yourself – buy health, install a gym To build up pecs plus pool for daily swims. Mike's a Londoner who deals in land And property. He's in the know and makes A profit by a legal sleight of hand. He buys from those who've lost then takes His time to see how much the market makes. He came from East End poverty in Bow But lives in luxury in Pimlico. He's bought the very best in cameras To document in style this scenic trip: Wide screen to capture beast or human drama, Zooms to snap tattoos on cheeks and lips. His travel gear is crease–resistant hip. Don't bother him with boring observations Unless you have some left–field information. Jasmine is the arts administrator Successful through her taste and charm and guile. Her Shoreditch flat has very little furniture; The walls are painted white or grey. 'That's style,' She says, eyeing people's painfully vile Clothes. She knows who's cool, who's in, who's out, Who's scene and puts herself to schmooze about. She contemplates the crowded mini bus And the need to share in two–bed tents. 'I find this rather dreadful. I really must Refuse the plan. I need one to myself. What if a fellow tourist farts or sweats? Or what if someone's tedious or crude? I haven't time for ignoramus dudes.' 'You'll have to take it as it comes,' says Ruth. Her father was from Ghana: she's mixed race. Her adoptive mother's from up North And white. And though she doesn't tell the truth She hardly knew her dad and not her roots In Africa. She wishes she was really dark And works on this with sun beds' UV arc. She works in inner city Liverpool With kids whose lives have drifted, mainly black. She tries to get them back to normal school Away from smoking ganja, skunk and crack And gangs and violent failure, all that crap. Her laughter and her swinging braided hair Present a gaiety that isn't there. Jay leans against the tourist travel bus We'll travel in along the roads of Mali. His face is weather–beaten; he'll cuss A lot you'll see but he'll have had a belly Full of moaning, spoilt tourists who fully Understood there'd be no luxury hotels Along the ancient routes of the Sahel. From Ireland there's the zealous teacher Finn Who's never had much zeal for making cash. Though always laughing he is hurt within. His gaze is dreamy. 'I need to turn my back From children on the wrong side of the tracks. Perhaps I'm in a rut, the endless job, the life. I'm keen to wander now I've lost my wife.' His clothes are crinkled, worn and loose; His hair flops on his broad and freckled face. He wears his ancient Gore–Tex walking boots And drinks Malian beer by the case. With i–pod on he thinks about his fate, A happiness he'd had, a much loved wife, Lost when cancer dragged her from this life Renee adds she also won't be sharing tents Any time soon and pulls her Zara t shirt Over Dior jeans. She skilfully pretends She's younger than her sixty three, still flirts With her face–lifted smile – swivels her pert Silhouette toned through workouts in the gym. New York requires all women to be slim. She's stringy rather, obsessed with what She eats. Fish she's heard will give Longevity and brain cells. Yoghurt Skimmed of fat, milk thistle keeps her liver Clean – her eyes are clear – not a sliver Of cake will ever pass her plumped–up lips. She swings on her best–buy, plastic hips. She teaches dance, still flexes like a snake And has a reptilian disposition. She wants to know who's scene, who's on the make Makes sure she knows the competition. Age won't affect her skills as a tactician. She's given parties for Big Apple's best. Bob Dylan dropped by once as vaunted guest. She married up – Manhattan's coolest pair In town. He was something big in bonds Venturing on brassy cash that wasn't there, Rolled toxic assets, sucking oxygen From normal fiscal life – the Napoleon Of money speculation: obscene To think that we must live within our means.
'rich and witty poems that jog along with rhythms and rhymes that Geoffrey Chaucer would have approved of heartily.'
'a vivid, sensuous, compassionate and intelligent collection – each poem has an emotional and moral centre.'
'Sheer delight for its subject, its language, its wickedly funny, marvellously erotic feast of life.'
'amusing, joyous and indignant.'
'a warm and witty, ultimately moving narrative.'