My second group of West Africans consisted of a totally mixed bag of folk coming from everywhere between the Cameroon and Sierra Leone. They ranged from 25 stone robed Nigerians to a little chap from Ghana who wore a pin stripe suit with spats and a red bow tie. He had diamonds embedded in two front teeth. Their personalities also varied hugely from quiet and courteous to downright obnoxious.
Again we made the foolish mistake of thinking they would all mix in well with each other and not mind sharing things like coaches and tours. ‘I am not going to sit with these Gambian riff raff’ a portly Nigerian yelled. ‘You Nigerians are all fat and greedy’ came the Gambian reply. There were then cat calls and sneers and it was hard to believe these were top industry executives.
‘We must do something’ my boss confided, which translated to ‘YOU must do something Platt’. It was clear that failure would not be a viable option and, as they were due to have dinner with our chairman I had to act fast. I had visions of a pitched battle ‘food fight’ with our man ducking to avoid chicken bones and cutlery. I even seriously considered changing the menu to only soft food!
I then remembered a man called Charles. He had spent half his life posted all over West Africa and I was sure he could give me some pointers. During his sojourn abroad he had unsurprisingly turned to drink and adopted strange habits like keeping chickens (live) in his company house and making crowing noises instead of laughing.
Anyway, I tracked him down to a pub in Crawley.
I bought him a pint of IPA bitter with a Glenmorangie chaser and explained my problem. ‘Show me the guest list dear boy’ he demanded. ‘Cock-a-doodle-doo’ he shrieked, ‘this is a recipe for a massacre; you cannot have this guy with them’. ‘And what about those chaps, they despise each other’. I felt sick, ‘Help me I begged.
After a large number of heavy drinks I had my best solution. Amidst robust cock crowing Charles had divided the party up into sub groups with hints on how to handle each one and who not to sit with whom. It was impressive. Henry Kissinger could not have done better I thought as I weaved back to the Copthorne Hotel where my new brood were sleeping, and possibly simmering.
As soon as they came together for breakfast I set out my new seating plan and the relief was palpable as they all seemed to talk quite amiably to each other. I scrapped the large coach they were due to be transferred by and replaced it with four mini vans and a taxi for the two giant Nigerians who seemed not to like anyone, not even each other.
We went back to the airport and checked them in for the flight to Scotland. The VIP bar got raided even though it was only 9.45 a.m. but thankfully this seemed to sedate them rather than excite. The flight was slightly delayed as we had to convert three seats into two for our Nigerian ‘High’ and ‘Mighty’ guests (these became their nicknames) but otherwise the flight was uneventful. Unlike our arrival in Edinburgh.
We lost one. Somewhere between the aircraft steps and the baggage belt we lost a Liberian. My group were unsympathetic. There were shouts of ‘leave him’ and other inflammatory remarks, with each group trying to out do the other. ‘We must find him, he could be ill’ I said and left them to wait in the VIP lounge.
. I found him but how he did it I do not know. Somehow, without going through immigration or security he had got into the International departures area. He was propped up against a bar with two huge bags of duty free including everything from whiskey to giant Toblerone bars. ‘Ah, Mr Mike’ he grinned, ‘can you pay for my drink please’. I plucked him out and got him back to his name calling friends.
We had a full welcome party waiting for us at the Caledonian hotel. They stood in a line in order to greet our guests one by one. This was not a good idea as all our guests wanted to be at the front of the line. As a result they pushed forward in an untidy V formation towards the startled hotel commercial director. The lady mayoress put out her hand to shake with our man from Douala but he placed his bag in it and told her to take it to his room.
At least I had got them there safely with few scares except a misplaced Liberian, a smothered commercial director and an indignant mayoress. Must be plain sailing now I thought, but no. I still shudder to think of it all in one go so I shall tell the rest of my sorry tale next time!