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Tell Mama - Etta James

One time Simon and I were out in the desert just behind my house when Glenn Walker, the much feared leader of the Zallaq Gate Lower Camp Gang caught us out in the open. Now I'm not sure if we'd ever previously had dealings with him, nor even if he did indeed have a gang, but the legend was there, and he was big and tough and older than us, and (on this occasion) scowling. We froze, and he grabbed hold of Simon's left ear, and brought Simon to his knees. In all the photos of us Awali kids - the boys anyway - the thing that is perhaps most striking about them is that we all seem to have enormous ears - I've no idea why - maybe it was because one of the teachers at the school would us them as convenient handles, or maybe the result of some biological experiment conducted in our fluorinated drinking water, but there's no doubt that this must have been irresistible to Glenn and who can blame him - he had a reputation to live up to.

I did what any sensible person would do, I legged it for home and help. I clearly remember bursting into the middle of our living room where my mother was holding a coffee morning and shouted "Mum, Mum, Glenn Walker's here and he's got Simon!" My mother, like some early female James Bond, put down her cup and saucer and calmly said, "excuse me ladies, this shouldn't take a minute", and followed me outside. She nimbly climbed the hillock behind the house, and there was the scene exactly as I'd left it, Glenn still clutching Simon's ear, and Simon still prostrate like a praying shepherd boy before him. My mother was wearing one of those demur sixties tightish skirts which went down to just below the knee, it was a sort of yellow ochre with coloured flowers on it, along with the de rigueur high heels of the day, so Glenn, fifty yards away at least, must have thought he was home free as he let go Simon's ear, and ran off. But he didn't know he was up against Wanstead High's sprinting champion. Mum hitched up her skirt and caught up with him, high heels and all, just as he reached a wooden water cooling unit, another fifty yards further off.

Simon and I watched agog as she sprinted like our DC comic book hero "the Flash" - no other comparison will do - and disappeared after him around the edge of the wooden structure, and waited with our hearts fluttering. After five minutes she returned, walking sedately over the rocky terrain, checked that Simon was okay, and said, "Don't worry boys, he won't be bothering you again" and went back to her waiting room of housewives, no doubt brushing the dust of her hands, business like, as she walked in. We never knew what had happened to Glenn and were indeed surprised when Glenn turned up at school the next Monday, seemingly unscathed, although we imagined that he scowlingly avoided our curious stares.

Years later, in her sixties in England, she recalled that Glenn had been impressed by her turn of speed, saying admiringly "coo, you're quick", and that she had given him a taste of his own medicine by grabbing his ear (somehow I doubt this, no-one , not even my Mum would dare do that to Glenn Walker!) and warning him that if he ever did touched me or Simon again she'd tell his mother. This obviously was the correct threat to apply as he gulped and swore he wouldn't. Even then, two decades after, her voice held a note of pride not so much at her athleticism in her mid forties, but rather as she recalled the mutual respect between her and Glenn.

Just a month ago, in Bahrain, I met Glenn's younger brother and sister, and recalled the incident for them and they promised to rib their brother about it when they met at Christmas, and then to tell me his side of the story. Through such legends are we kept alive after we've gone.

Now a little ditty from Etta James, backed by the Muscle Shoals session band, with a bass line as swift and relentless as my mother's high heeled legs, and a brass section as sweaty and beefy as Glenn's retreating thighs. And a vocal hotter than the Bahrain midday sun.

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