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Dakar Challenge

And so it begins. And already it’s turned into an adventure, and I haven’t even left Blighty. Late yesterday afternoon whilst we were opening our Christmas presents I got a call from a fellow competitor asking if he could bunk in with me. He and a mate were supposed to do this challenge in a plastic, three wheel, Reliant Robin but he blew up the engine on Christmas Eve and didn’t end up being able to fix it in time. So now I have a fellow passenger, which could be interesting since we don’t know each other. I had to get up a bit earlier (4am) than expected this morning to drive up to Gillingham, north Dorset, to pick him (Nick) up and then drive across to Newhaven Ferry Terminal. In the time it’s taken to start writing this missive we have just left the ferry terminal, so it’s now too late to back out as we’re on our way to Dieppe, France.

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Phew! The first bit done. Nick and I have now arrived safely in Poitiers, France after a five hour blast down the Toll Roads. It’s cost a fortune in tolls, but it’s worth it – I think. Nick has been useful as he can sort out the toll tickets from the passenger side of my right-hand drive car and it saves me having to get out and walk around the car to sort things out. It’s been a lot of driving, but it’s a bloody sight easier than running or cycling it. We’ve had a good chat so far and realised we are similar characters and have similar tastes – poor blighter! Nick is obviously pissed off that he can’t do the run in the “plastic pig”, but I also know that he is not-so-secretly happy to be sitting in a very comfy leather upholstered Alfa Romeo 156 and not in a noisy old Reliant Robin. It appears that we have become the defacto catalyst for a number of the other teams who have tagged along and also decided to bunk up at our cheap hotel in Poitiers. There are now three teams already here, with others due between now and midnight. Remember we’re an hour ahead of the UK. We’ve also just had an impromptu team(s) meeting in our room and decided we’re going to try to get as far as Salamanca in Spain by late afternoon tomorrow. Yes, we could get further, but there’s no great point in doing so. So the end of day one. No major cock-ups so far (apart from forgetting to bring my reading glasses) and no significant issues with the Alfa. Well, apart from a malfunctioning heater blower (located between Nick’s legs in the passenger footwell) which is starting to make some very bizarre noises. I suspect a bearing has gone and every time we hit a large bump in the road it makes a sound like a loud wet fart. As you might guess, it providing hours of childish fun …. At least it is helping to while away the hours of driving. Time for bed. I’ve been on the go since 4am. TTFN

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Wow! Now that was a long hard day in the car. Today was all about driving a knackered old car as hard and as far as we and the car could sensibly make it. On the one hand we need to make progress. On the other we don’t want to stress the car too much. We left Poitiers (France) a bit later than planned at 7:20am and drove at 75mph all day, with only three pee stops. We reached our planned hotel in the centre of Salamanca (Spain) at just gone 5pm. We spent most of the drive over the Pyrenees in thick fog and it didn’t get any better all the way to Salamanca. It’s a real shame not to be able to see the country in all its glory, but hopefully that will change tomorrow. Salamanca is an old Spanish city, steeped in history. We just had a quick look around the main old town square and it is beautiful and reminds me of the Plaza Mayor in Madrid. But boy is it bloody cold here. Probably close to freezing now, so we got very, very cold wandering around in jeans, T shirts and fleeces, which is about all the clothes any of us has got with us. I’m not sure going out later tonight for an evening meal is allowed that sensible, but we do need food. So all in all a good day’s work for Nick, me and the Alfa. Even the wet fart squeak from the blower has changed to a strange tapping noise, which is not so funny, but certainly a lot more annoying after 10 hours of it. We’ve had notification of the second retirement. Nick was the first to drop out on Christmas Day, but has bunked in with me. Colm from Ireland was the second retiree when he blew his engine up in Rouen (France), but is apparently still in the rally because another team drove quite a long way back to get him. That’s what makes this event so great – everyone is more than willing to help out a fellow competitor. Probably because there’s a big chance everyone will need someone else’s help at some point!

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Well that’s the end of an entertaining day blasting through the last 500 miles of Spain. It started with losing the other Steve on his Peugeot 206 25 metres after we left the hotel car park. We finally managed to find him again 200 miles later on the way to Seville. He was partly responsible for me getting my “infraction ticket” – well, that’s what we’ve told him. So, €200 worse off we left the Rossers and shot off down the motorway. We finally made contact with Steve via a WhatsApp call and found he was first 125 Kms ahead of us and then about 23 Kms behind us. Let’s just say his maths skills are worse than mine. Back in convoy we stopped at a random service layby and found another Dakar Challenge vehicle parked up. Hans and Thomas from Germany were finishing their late lunch. We had a quick chat – in English – and then headed south past Seville and then onwards towards Tarifa. Somewhere on the way I missed a significant turn off, resulting in a 25 km detour, which was actually very scenic. The hotel we were all supposed to meet at was on the main road, but surprisingly good. Our room is perfect and has very hot water! I will say no more on that subject as I still haven’t gotten over the Ashok shit hole. We all came together for a group meal at 7pm. The group started out with about 20 eaters, but finished up with nearer 30 as more stragglers finally made their way to Tarifa, found the hotel and joined us for food. The group is a really eclectic one. Ages range from 24 to 70. Experience of this kind of thing ranges from very to nothing. But there is a common want to make this an adventure. I was the butt of many a Police-related joke, but that is only fair. Colm (from Ireland), who had blown up his car earlier on turned up with his two co-pilots and was given a rousing round of applause. It is that sort of spirit that is hopefully going to make this adventure a good one. There is talk of going to Gibraltar tomorrow, but you’ll have to wait to find out if that your does indeed take place. After a spectacular late evening meal, I am now laying in bed typing away hoping my overly full stomach will allow me some sleep. TTFN

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Day 4 – day in Tarifa/Gibraltar. Having made the group decision to spend another day in Tarifa, we then followed my suggestion and headed off to Gibraltar. I cannot believe it’s around 23 years since Jane and I were last there! It’s changed quite a bit in some ways (the highway network) and not at all on others. For those who haven’t visited this interesting place, it’s a little bit of Britain stuck on a rocky outcrop at the bottom of Spain (and Spain isn’t happy about it). We drove up to the border, parked up, negotiated border control and then walked across the runway to the town proper on the other side. The Rock of Gibraltar dominates the town in much the same way as Table Mountain does Cape Town. The first thing you pass is a red telephone box! The price of diesel on the Rock is 98p per litre! We caught the cable car up to the top of the mountain, avoiding the vicious Barbary Apes. It was a shame the 7 of us couldn’t have been more organised and seen the magnificent cave system within the rock or the new Skywalk, but that’s the joys of trying to herd cats. After coming down the mountain we wandered through the town high street, found a pub and had a splendid Sunday roast dinner whilst watching the footie. Spot on! After that we headed back to our car, via the border formalities (which were zero), and drove to the nearby Algeciras ferry terminal to sort out the tickets for tomorrow’s crossing of the Mediterranean to Morocco. So all in all, an easy day for man (and woman) and car. Some of the 15 or do cars are already looking very sorry for themselves. Bumpers hanging off. New scratches. Etc. Etc. The biggest issue appears to be overheating. Thankfully, my Alfa Romeo only has the one new warning light come up on the dashboard, which I hope is nothing to worry about. The best car story so far is the French couple who set off in their Vauxhall Frontera with only 1st and 4th gears and no reverse. I’ve heard a story this afternoon that they may have got the issue fixed, but I haven’t seen them this evening to confirm it. Now that everyone has arrived it’s obvious there is a very eclectic group of nutters doing the rally. There’s probably around 30 people, but we’re not sure how many people there actually is. It’s a really nice, interesting group of people from as far north as Latvia and the Shetland Islands and with ages ranging from 24 to, let’s say, 70+. I’m now a bit weary and looking forward to a good night’s sleep – probably the last one for a couple of weeks or so once the rally starts for real tomorrow. But I may be surprised. TTFN

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Day 5 – crossing the Med. Wow! Now that was a faff. The morning started with the news that the catamaran from Tarifa wasn’t running because of the strong winds! Tell me about it. So everyone headed up to Algeciras to get the ferry over to Tangier Med. We had missed the first one so caught the 11.30am crossing, which actually left nearer noon. The crossing was ok, but that couldn’t be said for the administration on the Moroccan side. First passport control (15 mins). Then customs (10 mins). Then vehicle importation (2 hours). Then money changing (15 mins). Then getting a Moroccan SIM card (10 mins). Then Moroccan car insurance (15 mins). Then wait for everyone else to go through the exercise. One long faff. We had agreed the route to Chefchaouen on the boat, so set off in high spirits straight into a dead end, which cost 25 minutes and a good deal of piss taking for the navigators – who shall remain nameless, but it wasn’t us. We took over as lead car and navigated successfully through the mountain pass and on to “Chef”. We got caught in mile long convoy behind a lorry doing 15 mph up the steep hills. It took an hour before we were at the front. On the only bit of straight road for 10 miles I overtook the three slow moving lorries doing 90mph, straight into a police speed trap. I got pulled over, but upon seeing my number plate the cop resignedly just waved me on. Now that was a result, cus I was doing 90 in a 40 limit. I won’t hear anything bad said about the Rossers! When we got to “Chef” we took a turn up a 45 degree slope only to find the road blocked by a pile of gravel. We all backed down the hill. I scrapped my front bumper and the Bongo twins ripped off their tailgate. After another similar cock-up where we all scrapped our sumps on a kerb, we finally got to our campsite just as the sun was setting. I don’t like tenting, but when in Rome. I put my tent up, breaking the zip in the process, and then spent a happy 10 minutes pumping up my double blow up mattress with a foot pump. I then set about rehydrating my freeze dried food (left over from the Himalayan100) with a camp stove I bought (but not bothered to test) for 50p from a local car boot sale. The food was a master class in culinary expertise – NOT. After that I set about sending you guys a WhatsApp update only to find the SIM card that had worked perfectly at the ferry terminal, suddenly locked. With my usual ingenuity I’ve managed to bodge things for the time being and produced this literary masterpiece for you. I’ve now got to spend a night in an open tent, in freezing conditions, with a clear sky, high up in the Atlas Mountains. What could possibly go wrong 😆

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Day 6 – “Chef” to Fez. Boy, today was one of extremes. The day started with one of the worst night’s sleep I can remember. Possibly the fourth worst of many. My inflatable mattress punctured and I spent the night laying on a freezing cold floor, despite the tent. I probably managed an hour’s doze during the long night. And then I managed to break the zip on my tent flap so now it’s open to the elements. I suspect I am now going to suffer in the Atlas Mountains proper. But from there it all got better and better. We walked from the campsite down into Chefchaouen which is a spectacular old walled town. It stands out because many of the houses are painted a beautiful blue. Once we had fixed all the broken vehicles we drove south to Fez across a surprisingly pretty and very lush landscape. It was not what I was expecting. Getting everyone together was far more difficult than herding cats, but we eventually set off in two large convoys. The outskirts of Fez were uninspiring, but once we found our hotel by the old walled city it all got better. By chance we have found an amazing (and cheap) Moorish hotel. From there we trekked into the Souk to a large tannery. Somehow we blagged a free trip up to the rooftop terrace and looked over the tannery itself. The smell, even from four storeys up, was beyond description. Not pleasant! The Souk was interesting and vibrant, but I kept my wallet in my pocket. Back at our hotel, four of us had a sunset meal on the terrace. We’re just making arrangements for how and where to see in the New Year. You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out how that went. TTFN

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Update: after last night’s debarcle I decided to see if I could buy a suitable roll up mat at the local Carrefour. Decided to drive instead of walk the 1.9 Kms as it’s really cold here. Got caught up in an horrendous traffic jam with thousands of angry Fez-ians all vying for the same bit of roadspace. But the Alfa handled it admirably, with not even a scrape. We did get to a shopping mall but only ended up buying Nick a flask with pink flamingoes on it as he’s been moaning about missing out on his morning cup of tea. Now back at the hotel and feeling revived after a shower. Now about to be dragged off to some hotel bar where the other half of the competitors are getting hammered. Being teatotal, I don’t get it at all. Further update on tonight’s New Year’s Eve festivities to follow tomorrow morning. Actually, the clock on my smartphone us all over the place, so I don’t actually know what the flamin’ time is.

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Day 7 – Fez to Midelt . Well the inevitable happened, but we’ll get to that. After a very lovely start to the day I was full of the joys of spring – even though … Well, you know what I mean. We were all ready to go when Colm and Steve decided they wanted to go into the Souk as they had turned up late the previous night and missed out on looking around the place. Ok. More wasted time, but we agreed to meet back at the hotel at 10.30am at the latest and move off soon afterwards. I stayed back at the hotel to undertake the car checks, etc. At 10 45am they still hadn’t turned up so the others that were waiting with me headed off. At 11.15am they all strolled back without even an apology that I had been waiting holding up the traffic with my parked car for an hour. I was seriously pissed. And then to make things worse Colm announces he needs to get packed and have a shower (he had been drinking until 4am). Even the others were pissed off at that. Eventually Nick and I set off without the others at around 11.20am by which time I was fuming. I know I can be intense, but the way some people just amble through life without the common decency to be even slightly punctual (and then think it quite acceptable) astonishes me. Anyway, we made our way to an uninspiring waterfall, but I took advantage of the others getting lost and trekked up to the top of the mountain for better views. As I came down I saw the Steve/Colm car down in the valley so knew we were in for more wasted time and I wasn’t disappointed. They wanted a coffee and now being two hours later than planned, I didn’t. There was talk of visiting some nearby caves so we backtracked to go and visit them, which would cost an hour but seemed a good use of time. Once in the town we attracted the usual motly assortment of chancers and Nick agreed one would act as our guide. Knowing this usually meant being invited back for tea at some hovel I asked how long the walk to the caves would take. I was assured “10 minutes only” and that we couldn’t drive to the caves and needed to walk. An hour later and having been invited for tea at his hovel I was seriously, seriously pissed off. I know a couple of the others were by that point also comfortable with the guide but they kept quiet. Eventually, I semi-exploded and asked, quite politely when were we actually going to see the proper caves and not the various assortment of crappy semi-troglodyte caves he was showing us. Apparently, I have since found out, I was “bang out of order” and told to chill by Colm. That was a red rag to a bull having already wasted three hours of my life – that I will never get back – because of him already that day. But I sucked it up and continued on with the tour. Eventually, after one and a half hours we were presented with what might ordinarily have been some nice caves (maybe 6/10), but we’re completely ruined by piles of trash just thrown into the caves and surrounding area. What is it with the human race and litter! Eventually, after two hours and fifteen minutes we got back to the car by which time I was fit to burst. But I did hold my peace and just got back in the car to avoid any unpleasantness with the guide – who incidentally then charged €40 for his time, which is probably a month’s wages in the backwaters of Morocco. Colm paid it as I suspected/knew he wasn’t happy with my behaviour. Fuck them both. Now four hours behind even a lax itinerary we set off for Midelt without any idea of where to stay. The next few hour’s drive were really nice, passing through pine forests, deserts, mountains and green pastures. It was all very pretty. Because of roadworks and very, very slow moving vehicles we got to our destination 2 hours later than expected, but exactly when I said (Colm assured me I should chill as it would only take 3 hours to drive and it took 5 hours). By this point everyone was a bit fraught and as Colm had the only functioning smartphone we had to leave him to decide on the hotel. What a disaster. After another hour of messing around and a couple of false starts (including a partly finished hotel that reminded me of the one in The Shining) and driving 2 miles down a dirt track at 7 15pm we ended up at what might ordinarily have been a nice hotel in the summer. But in winter it is cold and damp. And no hot water! This all seems to be a recurring theme for my latest challenges. It was here that I discovered my pissed-off behaviour had upset Nick and stressed him out. He no longer wants to carry on with me as he wants a more relaxed atmosphere. Shit! I had put myself out constantly, including having to rearrange me and my car on Christmas Day to accommodate him, and then gone along with all of his suggestions (which I was very happy to do by the way, as they were good) since the start. I even put up with habits that would ordinarily annoy me intensely, like now washing and playing Tetris at 1am. I have one minor wobble, not even aimed at him, and now he wants to head off in a different direction. It’s now very early morning, I can’t sleep and I’m left holding the baby. I have a travelling partner that I can’t reasonably just abandon in the middle of nowhere, but he doesn’t want to compromise and get back in the car. I have no fuckin’ idea what will happen later this morning.

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Day 8 – Midelt to Tinghir. Yesterday was bad, but today nearly made up for it. Nick and I shared a room last night, so things weren’t that bad between us. But he was adamant he was going home. I said sleep on it and that proved to be a good call. Nick got up and arranged to couple-up with eccentric Pete. They should get on ok so I’m pleased that worked out, after a fashion. Without Nick I’m back to my original plan to do what I want within a framework agreed by the group of people I most closely associate with. I wished everyone Bon Voyage first thing this morning, drove off, took the “more scenic route” back to Midelt (the hotel was 6 or 7 miles out of town along a dirt track) and then ended up behind the others who left 5 minutes after I did. I could have shown off and blasted past them all with ease in the Alfa, but chose prudence over exuberance and drove behind them for the first 50 Kms or so. At a scenic pull off we all stopped and took photos after which I jumped in the car and sped off at the speed I want to go at and not the speed of the worst car. Now that I was on my own I started to listen to an audio book on the CD player: The girl with the dragon tattoo. It’s a great book and movie and I’m enjoying the audio book too. At Errachidia I attempted to buy another SIM card for my smartphone to make things easier to navigate and to communicate with others on the rally. To cut a long story short (for a change) I found a tiny phone shop, the guy spoke just enough English and I speak just enough French to work out what each of us needed and he proceeded to bypass all sorts of lock codes so I now have an unlocked SIM card 👍👍Once connected to the internet I contacted “And then there were 7” (the group I’m buddying up with) to find out where they were. Ten minutes later we were all back together, minus Nick. From there we headed west to Tinghir and then to a nearby gorge to do some trekking/rock climbing. What a great afternoon out with Pamela & Jarob and Justice. The four of us hiked for three and a half hours up into the high mountains in perfect weather. On the way back we picked up a Belgian damsel in distress who had got lost and deposited her back to her car and her friend, who had also got lost on the mountain. Just had a nice couple of hours chatting about cars and steam trains with Andy and his dad over food in the hotel restaurant. Nick and I got on surprisingly well, but he’s more sensitive than I am so it’s probably best to split up now before we fell out. I actually now feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders and will likely enjoy the rest of the adventure a lot more now. Sorry about the long missive yesterday. I needed to get it off my chest! TTFN

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Day 9 – Tinghir to Tiznit. What a great day! After a very good 8 hours sleep (I’m sleeping better here than I do at home!) we had breakfast and set off at around 9am. We now have a set pattern with Jeff & Andy in the Mazda Bongo (“Umbongo. Umbongo. They drink it in the Congo” – the older ones out there will remember that). Then comes Jarob & Pamala in the Ford Focus estate. Then comes Moriah & Justice in the Pardua “Aluminium Falcon”. Nope, we’ve never heard of one of those before either. Its the size of a shoebox. And then there’s me at the back as I have the fastest car and it’s easiest for me to overtake at high speed to keep the 4 car convoy together. We knew today was going to be a long one, but not how long. We drove for around 2.5 hours and reached Ouarzarate, which incidentally I have been to before because it’s the host town for the Marathon des Sables, an ultra marathon I did in 2006. We skipped through and then made an impromptu stop at the Moroccan version of Hollywood. We did a brilliant guided tour of the many movie sets for movies like Gladiator and the latest Ben Hur, amongst many others. It was really interesting. From there we headed off to Ksar Ait Ben Haddou, an Adobe hill town and World Heritage site. You’ll have to Google it for more info. From there we headed west towards Agadir through some of the most stunning scenery I’ve encountered anywhere in the world. The driving was brilliant and complemented by the ending of the audio book (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) I’ve been listening to for the past two days. It was getting dark by the time we reached the outskirts of Agadir. The driving was difficult as the hundreds of cyclists had no lights on their bikes – none of them – and we were in a 60mph dual carriageway. Added to this, most motorbikes don’t have lights and 1 in 20 vehicles don’t either. Admittedly the last 3.5 hours if driving were a bit stressful. As an example, whilst doing 40mph in a town a pedestrian quite deliberately ran across the road between the Aluminium Falcon and my Alfa. Problem was that I was only 10 metres behind them. That was scary. Between Agadir and Tiznit there were many speed traps and I ended up taking one for the team. I got pulled over again by the Rossers for speeding. The policeman said all four of us were caught speeding, but the others didn’t stop and being “tail end Charlie” I had to stop or run the copper over. I put on my puppy dog lost face and explained in pigeon French and sign language that I was trying to keep up with the Mazda Bongo ahead. After looking at the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car he just shrugged, shook my hand and indicated I could leave. Result. From there we made it to a very utilitarian hotel, run by a very happy manager. 7 people and 3 rooms in one night. He must have thought all his Christmases have all come at once! TTFN

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Day 10 – Tiznit to Bedouin Camp. A very nice day wending our way across to the Atlantic Ocean. After a slightly cold night in a cheap hotel, where I did manage 7 hours interrupted sleep, we were all up nice an early and checking water and lights – but not all that thoroughly! We set off from Tiznit at around 8am in the dark. I was promised an easy drive to our final destination by the others and, on the whole, that turned out to be the case. After 90 minutes we stopped for fuel and groceries at the last big store we will encounter for some time. Whilst there we discussed going to a camel auction in the nearby town. I can’t say I liked it all that much as the locals treat their animals with little regard for their welfare. But we got some nice photos of the camels goats, cows and sheep being readied for some hotpot somewhere. From there it was a long drive west on roads that varied from excellent to indifferent. But the stunning scenery in places, the functioning AC in the Alfa and a combination of a Andy McNab audio book and a bit of John Lee Hooker the hours and the kilometres ticked by. We stopped occasionally for a pee or a brew and on one occasion by the police who wanted to check our particulars. We crossed the border into the disputed Western Sahara around 4pm without even noticing it. We actually had to drive back to take some pictures. Not what I was expecting. From there it was just a few kilometres to the turn off for the Bedouin Camp. But the last 4.5 Kms on a dirt track had given us a taste of what is to come in Mauritania and Mali. The Bedouin Camp is a rudimentary affair, but they have their version of a yurt so Moriah, Justice and I grabbed the premier tent and will bunk in together tonight. Although this rally is similar in many ways to my cycle across America last year (although it’s obviously a lot less physically demanding), the constant strain of driving 8 to 12 hours a day on iffy roads, with crazy local drivers is, not surprisingly, quite tiring. The Alfa is still purring along, which can’t be said for the big cat (Jaguar) which appears to be having open heart surgery in some garage 500kms behind us. TTFN

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Day 11 – Bedouin Camp to Foum El Oued. Just an easy day giving us a chance to regroup. After an indifferent night’s sleep where Moriah, Justice and myself all “complained” of sore hips even though we were sleeping on memory foam mattresses. We had basically already decided to move on rather than stay an extra night and this confirmed things. As we had little more than 40 Kms to cover to reach Laayoune we took a relaxed view to when we should leave, which was good as we ended up having great fun helping out a Moroccan off-road motorcyclist who had got his bike stuck in a nearby marsh. With three people pulling and ten people supervising we dragged him out with a towrope we provided. Everyone enjoyed the messing around. We left the Bedouin Camp around 10am leaving Pamela and Jarob alone as they wanted to go off for a run/hike in the desert. We are now getting into an area with constant police roadblocks. Most of the time we have been waved courtesy through, but on a couple of occasions we have been pulled over and had to hand over a fiche (a personal document containing all relevant details. It has occurred to me the fiche contains enough personal information to do me real damage if anyone got hold of it and wanted to duplicate my life. We reached Laayoune an hour later and I immediately took to it. Where the people in Morocco always seemed “on edge”, the people here in Western Sahara seen happy and carefree. We drove around the city to find our overnight accommodation in Foum El Oued by the Atlantic. The drive towards the beach felt like a drive through Beirut, with half finished buildings and piles of building rubble. But actually this is a new coastal resort and we’d arrived a few years too early to see it at its best. The outside of our apartment was uninspiring, but the guy in reception (the owner) spoke English and was delighted to welcome us to his apart hotel. The apartment is fantastic. Three bedrooms, a lounge, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a small veranda. And right on the sea front overlooking the prominarde. Jeff, being nearly 70, was given the double bed to himself. I was assigned the twin room with Moriah, which seemed strange, until you realise it allows Justice and Andy the lounge (and the two make-up beds) so they can have a late night drink. We dumped our kit and went for a walk along the beach. All very nice. Since then I’ve washed all my clothes and hung them out and had a much needed shower. Justice and I have been out in his four wheeled shoebox to check out a meeting place for tomorrow so we can meet back up with Jarob and Pamela. On the way I noticed a huge shipwreck, so we drove down to the beach to take some photos. Not sure what we’re up to tonight, but I don’t think it will be much more than chilling and eating some grub. Talking if chilling – Justice is an American hipster, with manicured hair and beard and the SW American accent. Normally not might type of bloke, but he’s turned out to be one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Ex-special forces, I suspect. He was blown-up in a Humvee somewhere nasty, so is now in civvy street working in Austin, Texas. Nice guy. He and Moriah have started calling me “uncle Stephen”, which I know from what they say is complimentary, but it makes me feel old. But then I am old. TTFN

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Day 12 – Foum El Oued to Dakhla. A great, if a little bitty day. We eased our way into the day and waited for the sun to rise as the roads are too bad to drive on in the dark. We drove south for 10 Kms and met up with Pamela and Jarob (who had remained back in the Bedouin Camp for some reason) at a fuel station. The Alfa is diesel and does around 900 miles to a tank. The Aluminum Falcon is petrol and does 300 miles on a tank. Diesel is cheap and plentiful down here. Petrol isn’t. So I have donated my 5 ltr water canister to Justice and Moriah and offered to carry it in my boot as they are seriously overloaded already and having a petrol can inside the cabin is obviously not a good idea. Although having a container not designed to hold petrol in the boot is not all that clever an idea either. After filling up with fuel we headed south through a increasingly desolate landscape. In general it is slightly more lumpy than Kansas, US and slightly more interesting than the Skeleton Coast in Namibia, but together Western Sahara is one huge load of nothingness. Why anyone would want to “dispute” the land is beyond me, but that’s human nature for you. For miles and miles and miles we saw very little other than sand, sky and sea. Apart from that there was the occasional fuel station, which sometimes actually had fuel to sell, and huge wind turbine farms the size of most UK towns. We travelled about 1.5 hours before Andy noted a lonely sand dune sitting in hundreds of square miles of denuded, weathered rock. He then proceeded to try out the Bongo’s excellent 4 wheel drive capabilities and promptly got stuck. This does not bode well for the next few days when we need to go off-road in northern Mauritania and the Bongo is clearly the most capable off-road vehicle in our little convoy. We spent nearly two hours digging out the car, but still couldn’t shift it. I tried pulling it out with the Alfa but the towhook didn’t fit, so that was a washout. When quizzed I had to admit that I had never had to pull a 4 wheel drive vehicle out of a isolated sand dune in the middle of Western Sahara before so how the hell was I supposed to know the bloody towhook wouldn’t fit. Whilst laying under the car I noticed that the handbrake cable was hanging on the ground. I suspect I know when that happened. Two days ago a lorry flicked a huge rock across the road at me and it bounced under the car with a sickening thud. As the brakes still worked and there was no fuel leak I assumed I’d gotten away with it. The rock had obviously smashed through the cable. But the other side still works, so I just need to avoid parking on a hill from now on. “Simples”. Luckily, a local guy in a proper 4WD vehicle just pulled off the road, drove up to us and within 5 minutes had the Bongo pulled out of the sand dune. Now we’re in the Western Sahara we get stopped at every major junction by the Gendarmarie Royal (local traffic cops) and asked to hand over our personal information fiche. Through Morocco they noticed the number plates and just waved us through. Now we get stopped every time and asked very politely for our fiche. I’m not sure the reason, but ours is not to reason why. After one stop at a checkpoint I realised I was getting lightheaded from petrol fumes. I pulled over only to find the water container was venting fumes, which were then entering the cabin. I solved the problem by placing the container in a bin liner, taping a bit of fuel hose, brought along for just this sort of issue, out from the bag and letting it hang out the back of the partly open boot. Sorted. What could possibly go wrong! We stopped at what was supposed to be a scenic shipwreck, which was pants so we decided to go on to our final destination which we were reliably informed was a beautiful campsite by the ocean. When we got there it looked like a rock quarry and was blowing a hooley. I’m not sure I would have been able to put a tent up on that wind. The usual suspects wanted to tough it out and camp. The rest of us agreed that paying 5 bucks more for a room in a windfree (well, mostly) apartment was far more sensible. So far, all the places we’ve been told are scenic/lovely/idyllic have been pants and found everywhere else to be nice, friendly and welcoming (and not bloody windy). We left and drove to Dakhla the capital, which seems interesting, especially their traffic lights which are lit up (both lights and posts) in either neon green or red depending upon whether you have the Right of Way or not. It’s like being in Las Vegas. Our first attempt at finding accommodation failed when there wasn’t any safe on-site parking. Justice fired up his iPhone and found another place a few clicks away which again has turned out to be a belter. Small, compact and quaint would best describe this Moorish-style apart hotel on the edge of the city. The others have just left to go get some food. At 21:10 hrs I’m way past feeling hungry, so will content myself with some cup-a-soup and a hearty breakfast in the morning. TTFN

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Update: just some further thoughts before things start to get more “exciting” as we attempt getting into Mauritania tomorrow. Although the challenge has been fun on whole and you might think we’re having a jolly (well, for us nutters this is a jolly – I just press a pedal and I move forward), driving for up to 12 hours a day is stressful and very tiring, especially on these roads. And to make things worse, I’m doing all this on my own. Where other teams can share the driving, the navigating and the eating/drinking whilst on the move I have to do this on my own – and to be honest, I prefer it that way. I “live or die” by my own actions. We travel in convoy for lots of obvious reasons, which brings its problems, but they are dwarfed by the advantages. We can all help each other out with all sorts of little things, which makes a real difference. Extra eyes for police checks. Extra hands to dig cars out of sand dunes, etc. etc. Having inter- vehicle communications via walkie talkies had been essential so we can keep track of each other in towns and cities. Of course, these get abused and silly stuff goes on that I won’t bore you with, but that’s all part of the fun!

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Day 13 – Dakhla to just short of the Moroccan/Mauritanian border. A relatively easy day, made easier by stopping short of the border. Slept very well again with Jeff and Moriah in our room. You have to muck in on these challenges. We lounged around in our nice boutique hotel, had a leisurely breakfast and then ventured out into town. Apart from being told off by a security guard for being too close to a military installation it was uneventful. First thing, I noticed another competitor had a flat tyre, so I fixed it as best I could before they’d even got up. I’ve since found out it was actually a faulty valve, so I was never going to be able to sort that out properly. We failed to find a petrol can for Justice in town, so I’ve donated my Jerry can and will keep my fingers crossed I have enough fuel for the next day or so. But I have ditched the leaky petrol-filled water butt now as I was having trouble seeing because of the fumes. On the whole it’s probably the sensible thing to do. The driving (about 400kms) was through even more desolate desert. More of the kind of Saharan desert I’m used to. It is majestic in its vastness and nothingness. Taking the time to fix my air con. on the Alfa before I left is now paying off as the temperature is beginning to climb appreciably as we near Mauritania. I now piss off the others, who don’t have AC, by asking them over the walkie talkies whether I should set the AC to 16.5 or 17 😆. Justice has taken to waving at me out of the window when I do so, but from 100 metres back I can’t tell how many fingers he is waving. Thankfully, no major mechanical issues befell our convoy on the way down. We stopped shorter than expected when we reached a very rudimentary motel everyone else was using tonight. The other option was tenting next to the border, which would have meant it would be easier crossing the border in the morning, but would mean a freezing cold night under canvas. We plumped for the motel in the end. Other people are having their cars jacked up by local mechanics to help with the supposedly appalling “roads” just over the border. I’d like to do it but the way it’s being done might reduce reliability, so I’m leaving well alone. The problem I have is that my car has the lowest ground clearance by far of all the vehicles travelling with us, so the next few days driving through the desert sand is going to be eventful! It’s a very early start tomorrow morning now (about 4.30am) because we stopped early, but at least we will be in convoy so if I get lost, we all get lost. We supposedly have a “fixer” waiting for us at the border who will see us through the border formalities, then the minefields and then guide us on a two wheel drive route through the sandy desert. And for those who don’t know, the vast majority of the Sahara is rocky, hard compacted sand and not the Lawrence of Arabia type sand dunes most people think of. So now we are going to drive through this soft sand in the knowledge that we will get stuck and require help from others. Again, what could go wrong 😁😁.TTFN

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Update: this is just a guess at the moment, but being solo I suspect I will have a “fixer/guide” in with me through Mauritania, which will be okay as long as he’s showered in the past month – which in my experience is doubtful. I’ve also just found out that because Pamela is having to fly home early and doesn’t want the car she brought from Germany to carry on without her in it, that Jarob needs a lift to Mali – and I’m the only one with space. No one had actually formally asked me if this is OK yet. Jarob is a really nice guy so he won’t be a problem. But I’ve only just got used to my own company again and the thought of having someone else in the car with me is freaking me out somewhat at the moment. Having said that, I’m sure it will be fine …….

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Overnight update: I’m feeling strangely apprehensive about to today, when really all I need to do is follow the crowd and allow the “fixers” to do their thing. Whilst sorting out my kit earlier this evening one of our guys ran over to tell me there was an Alfa 156, the same as mine, being broken in the garage forecourt next door. I skipped over to find it gone or, more likely, it was a wind-up. But it turned up later running. Apparently, the local mechanic had rebuilt the engine, after a cambelt failure, in a day, with a hammer and a chisel, and for €50. Roger (my friendly garage mechanic), please take note 👍😁. But on a serious note, apparently the Senegalese mechanics are amazing and what they can do with limited tools and equipment is astonishing. I was hoping for a good night’s sleep but, as is always the case when you need sleep, I’ve developed a hacking cough which has woken me up every 20 minutes. Any apprehension I may have stems from a lack of fuel. A severe lack of local money. Actually, a severe lack of any money at all. And the knowledge that I will be in the hands of an unknown local who’s primary function is to squeeze as much money out of the gringos crossing the border as is possible. But I’m sure it will all be fine …. 😆😆

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Day 15 – wild camp to camp by the sea. This is a midday update in the hope I have some data connection over the next two days. Actually, that was a brilliant wild camp in the absolute middle of nowhere. A few scrubby trees, some camel droppings and 22ish (I haven’t bothered to count them as yet) parked on a rough circle around a few campfires. And to make things even better there was a near full moon to light the whole place up silver. Spectacular. It’s starting to get bitty now with various people starting to head off in different directions, so the camp awoke early to see off the first people. The rest headed off with the promise that this was proper off-roading. Apparently, it’s about 120kms through dunes, etc. so we should expect to get stuck – many times. But this is all part of the attraction. About 5kms in cars far more capable than the Alfa started to get stuck. It didn’t bode well. By keeping up my momentum I was able to keep going until I hill a big dip and remodelled the front of the car. I lost some plastic and a few other bits and loosened the indertray that I had fastidiously strengthened just before leaving. The indertray was now drooping down and acting as a sand scoop. 20 minutes later there was a loud whoosh from beneath the car. The guide who was travelling with me said puncture. I said no, air conditioning. A large rock had been scooped up and smashed though the AC pipework. Bugger. And it’s just starting to get very hot. With that bombshell accepted, we moved on only to hit another sand dune which ripped of the front of the indertray completely. I fixed this with some cable ties with no great hope it would hold. At the next sandy bit I got bogged down much to the annoyance of the guide who must have thought my off road driving crap (which it is). But he changed his mind when he saw the indertray bent double under the car and acting as a huge sand plough. We tried to fix that but it did the same again a couple of Kms later. A land rover pulled me out and dragged the Alfa to the next bit of semi hard sand. There, everyone came over to look. I know a lot about that damn indertray. It’s plagued me since I bought the car. It had to come off so I set about jacking it up and removing the wheels when Alan came over and said “no need”. He explained what was going to happen and we all set too. The car was rolled up to 45 degrees with brute force and first me and then later Shamus got under the car and ripped the indertray off its mountings. With the indertray laying by the side of the track, the car was unceremoniously dropped back down on four wheels, with job sorted. Apparently it’s been videoed so I may be able to post that later. The track we’re following is appalling and taking its toll on all cars and on all competitors. The Alfa is now working slightly better though. The intercooler is now acting as the front shock absorbers, so I expect that to pack up next. Whilst sorting out the car I left the doors and boot open and so, as normal, the Saharan wind had deposited two kilos of super fine dust everywhere and I know from past experience that you cannot get it out. The next incident was up a steep sandy jebel when Andy went too hard at it in the Bongo, pitching the car up like a bronco. I had to pass him or risk getting stuck. When he caught me up I wandered over and mentioned a stone must have hit the windscreen as there was a large star-crack on the drivers side. He said no stone. It wasn’t head! We’re now having lunch which will give time for the engineerd to fix many vehicle-related ailments, the worst being a busted radiator on a Renault Scenic. More updates to follow.

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Day 16 – wild camp near the ocean to Nouakchott. A relatively easy day. After a blowy night (all outside the tent I have to say) I awoke first at 2am after four hour’s kip, had a pee then tried to get back to sleep. After what seemed like ages I dropped off again and then woke up with both arms having gone numb as I had obviously slept on them in an attempt to keep warm. The desert is seriously hot during the day, but seriously cold from the wee (pun intended) hours to dawn, when it starts to warm up gently again. My smartphone said it was 6am so I got up. But it was actually 5am and I was left alone to pack up my camping kit. It was freezing cold, with a super clear sky overhead and zero light pollution because we were hundreds of kilometres from the nearest town or city. Already packed and ready to go before anyone else was even up and around I was the only one to see an amazing meteor shower directly overhead. It started with around 20 shooting stars all following each other closely into the atmosphere, followed at regular intervals (about 10 seconds) by another couple of dozen shooting stars all on the same trajectory. Instead of trying to video it, I just stood and watched it for the several minutes it lasted. By this time others had started to rise and by 7am, by their clocks not mine, we were ready to rock and roll. It was a relatively easy 105 Kms to Nouakchott and the Mali Embassy which we had to get to before 10am. There were a couple of checkpoints to negotiate and a delay when the Citroen Saxo’s exhaust fell off. We reached the Embassy with time to spare and spent a relatively painless couple of hours being processed and left with a Mali visa. A rough and ready guesthouse had been booked in the city by the rest of my convoy who had left the day before to get their visas. They missed one hell of a day driving in the dunes, but their cars are in a decidedly better state than they would have been. After a shower, well two actually, I felt a lot cleaner after 2.5 days without washing. I smelt reasonable, but I was covered in the fine Saharan dust that gets everywhere. I remember still washing that very same dust out of various orifices two weeks after my ultra marathon in the Sahara back in 2006. Having not really eaten anything substantial in two days I was ready for a steak and have just eaten one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. Just another one of the crazy idiosyncrasies a challenge of this nature throws up. Not much to do now other than jump in the car this afternoon and go for a mooch around the city. Tomorrow is another hard day as we have a very long and very, very hard drive to Kiffa, still in Mauritania, as we make our way West to the border crossing into Mali. We have been led to believe it is safe, but the proof of the pudding …. TTFN

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Day 17 – Nouakchott to Kiffa. A pre-drive update. Today has the potential to be one of the hardest, quite possibly the hardest drive of the whole challenge. The drive from Nouakchott to Kiffa is around 610 kilometres (381 miles), which at home in the UK might take 6 hours. I’d hate to think how long it’s going to take here. By all accounts the tarmac roads are appalling, with huge potholes, which reduces your speed to a crawl in places. Added to that, there are very regulate police roadblock checks where we have to hand over a fiche. A fiche is a pre-challenge produced page of A4 paper containing personal information, everything from name to inside leg measurement. I produced around 60 before the challenge and I have around 30 left. At every check point you have to slow to a crawl and then look contrite as you hand over the fiche to a “policeman” of indeterminate importance. Some are fine, just bored (they just stop vehicles and collect bits of paper for 12 hours a day), some a bit more officious. Other teams have WhatsApped that they have been fined for minor indiscretions. So far we’ve been lucky, but this next section is notorious. The”policemen” are now starting to ask for cadeau (gift), so there’s an opportunity to both “legally” bribe policemen and also get rid of all the rubbish and bits and bobs I’ve brought along for just these situations. All in all, I suspect we’ve got a 12 hour drive to Kiffa, which we absolutely must reach tonight as there is nowhere else to camp safely. Whether there will be WiFi in Kiffa is debatable, but fingers crossed so you can find out how things went. TTFN

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Day 17 – update. And then there was 5. At the restaurant last night we amazingly caught a piece on some French TV channel showing riots and demonstrations in Bamako. It freaked a couple of people out and within 10 minutes four people (two teams) had decided to still go to Bamoko, but via Senegal and not Mauritania as we had all agreed. I think the ringleader was Colm again, but whoever, it meant that Clive (driving a clapped out old Range Rover) was left hanging, so I invited him to join Mariah and Justice in the Aluminum Falcon and yours truly and Jarob in the Alfa. After saying a sad goodbye to Jeff and Andy (and having completely missed Pamala’s leaving – she flew out early back to San Francisco) we set off. With Pamela having left I now have a new copilot in Jarob. We left Nouakchott at just after 7am in the dark and straight into what appeared to be rush hour traffic, so it took 30 minutes to get out of the city. Some of that time was having to stop to find my wallet that I had lost. I found it in exactly the place I had safely put it the night before. The cities here are great big sprawling things with shantytown-like workshops bordering the road where the entrepreneurial spirit flourishes. Essentially, the next fabulous 10 hours were spent driving through stunningly desolate terrain, some of the most diverse we’ve encountered thus far. From Serengeti-type plans, to huge mountain gorges, to fields of acacia trees, and then back to miles of nothingness. Spectacular and possibly my favourite day of driving, just because of the diverse scenery. But this was tempered somewhat by the worst roads we have encountered. We were told they were bad, but these were on a whole new level. In the UK you drive to avoid potholes. In Mauritania you drive to avoid the last vestiges of tarmac. At first we drove slowly trying to avoid any bone crunching holes in the road. But after a couple of hours of this we joined the local drivers who were hammering by us at 70mph and just skipping over any potholes. Definitely an improvement, but seriously stressful. We stopped occasionally to pee, drink and graze on whatever food we each had available, but most of the time we just trundled on in our three vehicle convoy. Every 10 to 20 kilometres we encountered a police road check, wherever handed over another fiche. I only have about a dozen of the 70 I printed off at home. In the stretches between hamlets we had to avoid camels, donkeys, horses and cattle wandering across the road unexpectedly. In the town’s and hamlets we ran the gauntlet of Mercedes taxis, about 20 years past their sell by date, or donkey carts laden down with all sorts of assorted rubbish. The constant hammering the rough roads were handing out was playing hell with the Alfa. The 30 degree heat was playing hell with the driver. Boy, I miss that AC! Inside the car my smartphone sent me a message saying it was overheating. My dashboard trip computer display also gave up due to the heat blasting through the windscreen onto the black plastic. But I was still even overall as I had gained the electronic mileometer which amazingly started to work, having not worked for the past two years. The brake pedal has started to squeak, but worst of all, the handbrake cable has now completely snapped leaving me without a handbrake. But the engine is still purring along, doing 60mpg at these speeds. With plentiful, if crap, diesel available I don’t have to worry about fuel. Poor Justice was crapping himself because his shoebox is petrol driven and you just cannot find a fuel station that sells petrol here. Halfway to Kiffa he was starting to stress about running out of fuel, but amazingly I found some in a small village, so we filled up his car and two Jerry cans, so we think they now have enough to reach Bamako barring incident. We reached Kiffa slightly ahead of schedule and still just in daylight. We followed Google maps to one hotel, found it too depressing and moved onto another one recommended by previous Dakar Challenge people. We couldn’t find it at all in a maze of dirt streets, half built compounds and mosques. We soon attracted a large crowd and many hands make light work, so 30 minutes later we were still no nearer to finding anywhere to stay for the night. You just have to love African enthusiasm. Lots of endeavour, but very little end result. By now it was dark, but although there was a crowd of perhaps a dozen locals we didn’t feel threatened, but we just couldn’t find the place we were looking for. Eventually, a boy who spoke some English offered to take us to his dad who was a local copper, who would then take us to a hotel he knew on the outskirts of town. 20 minutes later, having avoided many life-limiting crashes with vehicles with no lights we turned into a dark compound and shown to a room with no electricity and no water. Bang went my need for a hot shower. Clive, Justice and Jarob decided to tent it. I couldn’t face that so I’m sharing a room with Moriah. I am now hungry, smelly and tired after a long 10 hours of stressful driving – and really loving it all 😁. TTFN

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Update: there is no electricity or WiFi here and the mobile phone reception is nearly non-existent, so there’s no telling when this missive might get to you. Despite that I’ll provide an update on a couple of things. The first is that travelling in a small convoy (three vehicles) with like-minded people is much more enjoyable than a couple of days ago when herding 18 teams across a desert meant long periods of inactivity. Now, we just stop, go and pee whenever anyone wants to and it’s just a lot easier. The second is that Jarob has turned out to be an excellent travelling companion. We both do ultra marathons and have done a few of the same races – but not at the same time – and have similar views on certain things, even though we are completely different characters. This bodes well for the next couple of days!

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Day 18 – Kiffa to Malian border. A relatively simple 380km drive over appalling roads. We all got up early and were ready to take off by 7.30am. The “hotel” was possibly the worst we’ve found since leaving the UK, but any port in a storm. And it was still better than the Hotel Shithole in Delhi. We left as soon as it was light in the hope of reaching the border, sorting out our exit papers and then getting into Mali before it got dark as there is nowhere to sleep safely for a few hundred miles. The first 100 kilometres of road were supposed to be awful, but turned out to be brilliant as they had just resurfaced it. After that it did turn awful for 30 kilometres before turning brilliant again. Because we were driving at 100 kmh instead of the expected 50 kmh we made excellent progress. The terrain and landscapes through which we were traveling was amazing. At one point I got on the walkie-talkie saying it’s like being in the Serengeti/Masai Mara and I kept expecting to see giraffe, elephants and lions. It was amazing. Every 20kms the landscape changed. From Serengeti-type plains, to acacia forests, to huge sand dunes, to rugged mountains and back to the Serengeti. I really love Mauritania and I hope to be able to come back to visit again. The check points came thick and fast, but we handed over our fiches and smiled idiotically. If you tried to speak French the Gendarmarie got interested and you ended up handing over cadeau (gifts/bribes). It’s best to say hello in your best posh English and then play dumb. They get bored very quickly and then wave you through. We made the Mauritanian border by noon, but it took an hour to sort out our passports and then another half hour to sort out the vehicle export licence. We then drove 300m to a closed Mali border. We parked up and eventually found out the border was closed for some indeterminate reason, but probably due their lunch. We were told that there was no possibility we could get through before 5pm which really buggers up our overnight accommodation as we still need to get through the Mali border. At present the 5 of us and a couple dozen truck drivers are sitting in a roadside “cafe” drinking Fanta and trying to waste another three hours. Luckily, we have found a Belgian guy called Guy who speaks French and has explained things otherwise we would not have known what is going on. Guy had already tried to bribe the border guards but that failed. There are worse places to get stuck, but in 35 degree heat (the sun here is so strong) I’m sure it is going to get tiresome. That’s it for now, but I suspect there will be plenty more to tell you about by the end of the day. TTFN

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Update: It took nearly 8 hours but we’ve finally been let into Mali. The border officials finally came back from wherever they were asleep at 4.30pm and set to work on our paperwork first, probably much to the annoyance of the locals. We were helped in no small measure by Guy, the French speaking Belgian we had met yesterday and had caught up with us at the border. We got through the Mauritanian border processes, which took about 6 different check points, by around 6pm. This entailed getting our visas cancelled, then our vehicle import documentation signed off, then our passports stamped to say we were leaving Mauritania. During this we filled in any number of forms, all giving the same information we’d given to Mauritanian officials over 40 times already. Once in no man’s land we had to buy car insurance for Mali, which cost a fortune, and then get something else signed. Once in Mali itself we had to get various forms signed and stamped. And just when we thought we were sorted and could get off to Nioro and a hotel – hopefully – we found we had to negotiate the Mali customs. This took another 30 minutes of frustration. And just when we thought we were then free to go we encountered another check point. This one was for some sort of road tax. The whole process took around 8 hours and cost around £100, for what benefit remains to be seen. We had absolutely, categorically, not-to-be-questioned, agreed not to drive at night over here because driving in the daytime is dangerous enough. But now we had no choice, so we set off in the dark with little or no chance to avoid the massive potholes we were told to expect. We set off with Guy in the lead in his Hummer, then the Aluminum Falcon, then the Alfa and then the Land Rover Discovery. About five minutes in to the drive, and just as I was getting used to the driving, I had to brake and swerve dramatically to miss a black horse that ran into the road. Now that was seriously frightening. From that point we all turned on our high beams in the faint hope we wouldn’t hit anything. After an hour and a bit of high speed driving, where we encountered lorries with no lights and motorcycles that dazzled us on high beam, we reached Nioro. We eventually found a rough and ready hotel that had electricity, but no hot water. We were all so tired that we’ve all just accepted what was on offer, relieved to have made it safely through another day. TTFN

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Early morning update: with no mobile phone connectivity, as our Mauritanian SIM card stopped working pretty much as soon as we crossed the border, I’m resorting to writing updates and hoping I can find a new Malian SIM card this morning. WiFi seems to be in short supply here. As an aside, I heard Moroccans refer to it as “weee feee” and not WiFi a few weeks back. I asked for weee feee last night and got a blank stare from the owner. Guy told me I had just asked the owner for eight girls in the local language! Yesterday was one hell of a day, but followed a very strange pattern of previous days. Each day has been a perplexing mix of the absolutely astonishing and the frustratingly unnecessary. Take yesterday for example. The drive was brilliant, almost too fantastic to eulagise about. Then there was the 8 hours of tedium getting through the border formalities. That tempered everyone’s good spirits I can tell you. And to finish up having to drive in the dark, which is an absolute no no down here because of the many road hazards, was seriously “stressful”. But we reached this safe and warm “hotel” safely: I’d give it half a star if I was being generous. But the owner was accommodating and arranged for six meals to be cooked and served at 10:30pm – that’s a good 3 hours later than I have ever eaten a meal before! The water is cold, so I just went to bed having not showered for two days and was asleep two nanoseconds later. Probably managed 5 hours straight through, so more than sufficient for my needs on a short term basis. The plan later this morning is to get our passports or something else stamped at a police station somewhere first. Why it’s all been so convolutedly complicated is beyond my meager comprehension. Then find an ATM, which in a place the size of Nioro du Sahel shouldn’t be an issue. Then sort out a new SIM card, which again I’m hoping shouldn’t be an issue Mobile phone shops seem to be as prevalent here as they are anywhere else in the known Universe. Then it’s just a case of driving from here to our finishing point of Bamako, a trip of roughly 435 kms. It all sounds so simple when you lay it out like that ……

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Day 19 – Nioro du Sahel to Bamako. One of the most momentous days of my whole life! The day started in a beautiful way with the six of us having a very pleasant simple breakfast. All fit and raring to go we set off to a nearby police station to get yet another piece of paper stamped. We sat in a small stuffy room expectant that all would be well. Guy then informed us that there was a charge for the stamp. It was 1000 local (CFA) at another police station 1 mile away or these coppers would process the money side of things but it would cost 5000 CFA. We all looked at each other and handed over the very last of our money having had everything comprehensively ripped from our sweaty fingers since entering Mali. The best one was the previous night at the customs post. On a weekday the charge was 5000 local, but because it was a Sunday the charge was 15000 – each! Severely pissed off we wished Guy a bon voyage as he sped off in his Hummer. We set off at a more sedate pace for the 440 kilometres to the Sleeping Camel hotel in Bamako. The first section of road was quite good but then sections began to get worse and in places we were reduced to a walking pace. But then the road surface improved and we thought we’d piss it and be at the hotel by lunchtime. At one checkpoint we were informed that there was a 40 kilometre stretch of very bad road. What that meant we were to find out. It was obvious we had hit this bad section as the tarmac just disappeared and was replaced by deep dusty potholes 2 foot deep in places. I do not exaggerate. This bit looked like something Top Gear would find for the three Muppets to take on. Clive in the Land Rover handled the terrain with some aplomb. The Aluminum Falcon is so small it just fell into the holes and came back up the other side unscathed. The Alfa, however, was a whole different matter. It was obvious I was in trouble. The longer wheelbase and minimal ground clearance meant I was crawling through the maze of potholes at 1mph. But I was working my way through with only the occasional guy wrenching crunch to make me wince. After a couple of clouts to the underneath of the car the road reappeared and with a sigh I edged the car back up a 5 ft sandy bank to the tarmac. Just as I broached the top of the slope I clouted a near hidden rock and looked back in horror as a trail of black engine oil and a couple of lumps of metal lay forlornly in the dust. It was immediately obvious the Alfa was done for. I turned off the engine to reduce any further damage, got out and wandered back to the biggest of the metal lumps. That wasn’t going to be sorted with some chemical metal! The others stopped and also wandered over to survey the damage. It was midday. It was 30 degrees. And the dust was attrocious. I got down in the dust to confirm the damage and got covered in oil and dust. Horrible. But not one to flap, I said with only 165 kilometres to go I was bloody well going to get the Alfa to Bamako one way or the other. I asked Clive and the Land Rover if he would tow me and he rather reluctantly said yes. I suspect he is more than ready to go home. We found various lengths of rope and slings in my boot and cobbled together a towrope about 7 metres long. I could only wrap it around a suspension arm as my towhook doesn’t fit. I regretted not sorting that out when I had the opportunity. We set off at a crawl and lasted 3 minutes before the rope snapped. I cobbled it together again and that lasted another 10 minutes. At this rate we’d get to Bamako in a week. My next effort was rather more successful and lasted an hour before it snapped in the middle of a dust bowl. In zero visibility I crawled in the dust once more, effected another repair shortening the rope by another 6 inches. The road was still so bad we stuck to a dusty track to the side and just got more filthy dirty as we had to have the windows open because of the heat. All this towing took place at 10mph, so was relatively easy. But then after 40 kilometres of hell the road surface improved, we got back on the tarmac and our speed increased. From there I was trying to negotiate the potholes with less than a 7 metres warning whilst doing 30mph on the end of a towrope. All I could do was miss the worst of the 9 inch deep potholes, but most of the time I just crashed into them. The noise was horrible, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Then the road improved again and we could race along at 50 mph. Now I can tell you that the next 4 hours seemed like a lifetime. I was being towed by a large vehicle that I couldn’t see around. I had no brakes because the servo assist wasn’t working because the engine wasn’t running. And we needed to get to Bamako before dark. And to make things worse every tiny village had a series of road humps through them. These road humps aren’t the biddy ones we get in the UK. These are monsters. Every other one would scrape the underneath of the car, but it was fucked anyway, so I just got dragged over each one and winced. The constant crashing into the potholes I couldn’t avoid had burst the front tyres and possible the back too. This lowered the car even further. Then the suspension seemed to give up and we sat even lower. Moriah did get things sorted and emailed a Bamako “fixer” and explained the problem. Somehow it was agreed to meet up at a toll station just outside Bamako – if we made it. The road surface improved slightly so we went even faster. Jarob looked ashen beside me. I wasn’t sure if it was the dust or the situation. To cut a long story only a little shorter, we made it to the rendezvous point in surprisingly good time. The fixer assessed the situation and upon hearing it was only a busted sump directed us to a roadside garage the other side of the toll booth. I was ceremoniously pulled through the toll booth 6.5 metres behind the Landie to the astonished looks of the attendants. At the garage I explained the situation and amongst much tutting and gesticulations they agreed to fix it. I asked the fixer when he thought it might be fixed (thinking it might be a week) he said it would probably be tomorrow and they’d bring the Alfa to my hotel. We decanted my kit into the Landie and we drove off through the mad city to the Sleeping Camel hotel we’d been recommended. It hadn’t even occurred to us that they wouldn’t have rooms, but when we got there they told us they were full. With that bombshell we got back into the mad rush hour traffic and found another hotel, which is actually very nice, if a bit expensive for Africa. So, the Alfa did make it to Bamako, but just not under its own steam. Whether it will ever move again under its own steam has yet to be determined. I’m now sitting writing this in the restaurant, sipping a Coke and waiting for my poulle entier grille – whatever that is. More to follow!

Early morning update – unlike Mr Richards, for those of you not bored with all this nonsense, here’s a bit more to be going with. After the muppetry of the past three weeks a guarded hotel compound in Bamako seems a bit surreal at the moment. The “street chicken” I ordered for my meal last night was appalling. A whole stringy chicken, with about as much meat on it as you would get in one Iceland chicken nugget. And it was tough as old boots. I had been warned, so I wasn’t disappointed. I’m currently laying on a single bed, next to a sleeping Jarob (in his single bed) a foot away. We’ve pulled the beds closer together so we can share a mosquito net as the little buggers desperately want to give us malaria. I’m sure Mali and Bamako have there good bits, but to date I haven’t taken too either of them. The people are nice and friendly – the ones who don’t want to behead me – and we’ve been met with nothing other than interest and good intentions. But they do speak the devil’s language (French), so we are struggling a bit. Having said that, I am now able to ask that a busted sump on a 2014 face-lift Alfa Romeo 156 JTDM 20V be fixed and brought to my hotel compound in fluent French 😆.

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I’m not usually one for showing photos of people, but these were my four fellow travelling companions at the 1 star “hotel” in Nioro. From left to right, Clive, Justice, Moriah, Jarob and then yours truly.

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Five more converts to the cause. These were the security guards for our hotel compound in Bamako, Mali 👍

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Day 20 – lazy day in Bamako. After a slow settle into the morning we all set off to find an ATM and get some money out. All five of us were skint having been right totally fleeced at the border by the local Gendarmarie. With money in our pockets we sat down for something to eat in a local cafe. After that Moriah and I wandered off to the Sleeping Camel hotel as we’d seen some carved animals we both liked at a roadside stall next to the hotel. I haggled with the guy and we agreed that a swap would work, where I would give him all my old clothes (which was basically everything I’d brought with me) in exchange for two items. He turned up at our hotel expecting more kit, but the Alfa still hadn’t turned up and half my kit was still in it. We parted on the promise that I would return to the Sleeping Camel hotel and hand over some more kit. It’s a tricky one as I also wanted to hand over as much kit to the charity I was donating the car to. At around 6pm the Alfa turned up at the end of a towrope. Somehow the garage guys had towed it all the way through a congested capital city. Frightening! With the car now safe in our hotel compound I could rifle through all the kit I’d brought with me and parcel it up for the various charities. With that done and everyone impressed by the state of the broken sump, I walked off to the Sleeping Camel to pay my debts. The guy was so chuffed with the cadeau I’d brought he gave me a couple of free keyrings. But I said what I really needed was a lift back to my hotel, which was 1.5 miles away through dark alleyways. The next thing I know I’m a pillion passenger on a 60cc moped hurtling through the end of the rush hour traffic, with no helmet, on a wreck of a bike, with no lights, and mostly on the wrong side of the road. Mind you, it’s difficult to know who is actually on the correct side of the road as everyone is trying to drive on the same bit of tarmac/dirt. After an exciting 10 minutes I was dropped off at my hotel none the worse for the experience. During the day I was able to book a flight home, but you’ll have to wait to hear that sorry tale until tomorrow as I need to get off to bed now. TTFN.

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Early morning update – yesterday was all a bit of a whirlwind, but I’ll bore you a little bit longer with a summation of the things that occurred but not previously mentioned. Okay, let’s start with trying to find a way home. Nine months ago when I started to organising this malarky getting back from Bamako, Mali was relatively easy. Thomas Cook flew direct back to the UK for around £350 in around 6 or 7 hours. So all very civilised. With TC going bust the options have been drastically reduced. I didn’t want to book anything in advance as I didn’t want to be tied down to dates and have to rush to get here just to catch a flight. Equally, I didn’t want to book a flight home which gave a few days flexibility just in case Bamako was a shithole and I would have to sit around wasting time. As it turns out, Bamako is interesting in its own way, but I’d be happy not to have to spend anymore time here than is necessary. Thus, yesterday I got down to finding a quick, cost effective way of getting back to the UK. For £1450 I could fly home in 9 hours with Air France – too expensive. I could fly home with Royal Air Moroc for around £350, but that could, on some flights, because of multiple stops take 36 hours. I could also try flying to places like Barcelona and then hope to find a way back from there. Moriah and Justice are flying back via Istanbul, but taking advantage of it and spending three days sightseeing. I’ve done enough of that stuff for a while so wanted something different. I have found a “return home itinerary” via an exotic route, but I’ll leave that for a bit later. What I will say now was that the process of booking the flights turned out to be a right kurfuffle. 10 attempts on my smartphone later and I still hadn’t actually been able to pay for a flight. It just kept refusing to accept my credit card details. Then Jarob tried on his laptop, found a flight that had gone up by £100 to £470 because of all these people (me) trying to buy a flight home. I accepted the increase in cost and booked the flight. It accepted everything, took my money and then sent a message saying Opodo had cancelled the transaction. So I found another supplier, got it to work and booked a flight for £360. Result! Then I received two emails saying I’d booked a flight. One with Opodo (the expensive one) and one with Go to Gate. I’ve cancelled the one with Opodo, but whether I get a full refund or not will yet to be seen. You’ll have to wait to find out which way I will be circumnavigating the world to get home later as I haven’t told Jane yet!

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Day 21 – Getting home. After yesterday’s debarcle booking a flight home I needed things to go my way. With two departure times given on the same flight confirmation email we had to play it safe and get to the airport early. Sonny, our fixer (more of later), picked me up at 7:30am which just about gave me time to say my goodbyes to Moriah, Justice and Jarob. After a few photos in front of the Alfa I said goodbye to her as well, feeling more than a little guilty that I had consigned her to a final few years of hell as a taxi in Bamako. The trip to the airport took 35 minutes, where we threaded our way through a sea of mopeds and Mercedes taxis belching out oppressive amounts of black diesel (gasoil) exhaust fumes. It was only now that it became quite so clear that this is a war zone. A massive UN compound surrounded by razor wire and machine gun wielding guards sat just outside the airport entrance. The armed guards located everywhere on the drive into the airport made a definitive statement that not all is well here in Mali. I was first in the check-in queue, first through baggage check and first through passport control. It’s then just a matter of wasting time – something that at the age of 55 I can’t really afford. UN liveried Hercules transport planes were landing and taking off in front of me so perhaps avoiding the worst of the ISIS- held areas was a good idea. And so to my flight home. The best and most cost-effective way of getting home I found is with Ethiopian Air, via Addis Ababa. Unfortunately, this means flying in totally the wrong direction to Addis Ababa, then a 4.5 hour layover, resulting in an overall flight time of something like 19.5 hours to reach London. The things we do for adventure ……

Update: I’m now sitting on an Ethiopian Airways plane, having not had any WiFi in the airport. What a delightful shambles Africa is at times. I asked to buy an hour of WiFi from a store and was quoted 5000 CFA, about £6. I laughed and walked away. You can buy a SIM card and 5GB/month of data for that amount of money on any street corner. Just because we are white and at an airport we seem to be fair game for the unscrupulous. For all it’s obvious merits, Mali will forever stay in my mind as the country most ready to fleece the unwary traveller – or at least one as tight-fisted as me.

About Sonny, our Banako fixer. Sonny is a local businessman and Rotarian. Out of the goodness of his heart he organises the collection and auctioning of any Dakar Challenge vehicles that make it to Bamako each year. This money is then distrbuted to local children’s charities. To be fair, he has been brilliant. He has organised and paid for some local trips out for us and has organised all the vehicle related paperwork. But I am still going to permanently export the Alfa, via the V5, when I get home. It’s people like Sonny who offset some of the more blatant efforts to empty my wallet 😁

Last Bamako update (before I get to Addis Ababa and you get all this lot come through in one big hit when I, hopefully, get WiFi): Sonny organised for Moriah and I to go to the local art market. Moriah wanted to buy more gifts and this would be my only opportunity to get out into the mad city center proper. It was not for the feint hearted. The smells of the rotting sheep heads alone would put most people off. As Moriah headed off to buy this and that I just stood around soaking up the atmosphere. When I started to get enquiries about buying a camel head, a tribal mask, a wicker basket, a bit of jewelry, a bit of leatherwork or a bit of treen I just pretended to be bored and pointed at Moriah saying: “Not me. My wife has all the money”. It worked every time. They all looked knowingly at me and left me alone. I noticed an old guy trying to read his smartphone about three inches in front of his eyes. It was obvious he was having problems seeing. Without thinking I wandered over and gave him my reading glasses. He was so happy with this windfall that it made my day. 5 minutes later I needed to read something, didn’t have any reading glasses, so missed out on an opportunity to buy a present for Jane. And then I broke my spare pair of glasses during the night whilst trying to swat a mosquito flying around my face. They say that charity begins at home, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen from now on! Moriah, being on the large size, is presumably thought to be attractive in Mali. Apparently, if you have the money you can send your daughter to a “fat farm”, where over a two year period they literally fatten up the child and, in doing so, make them desirable and more valuable. It’s a fucked-up world.

Update : I’ve just arrived in Addis Ababa airport and quite like the vibe already. It’s a major coincidence as I was sort of planning on spending my next big adventure in Ethiopia visiting Erta Ale (or Ertale or Irta’ale) which is a continuously active basaltic shield volcano in the Afar Region of northeastern Ethiopia. I just ended up here a few months earlier than expected. I probably should have used the time to go off and do the lava lake trip whilst I’m here but I am so knackered I couldn’t face it just at the moment. I have a 4.5 hour layover, then a 8.5 hour flight to London, leaving at 00:35 hrs Ethiopian time, then a National Express bus back to Bournemouth, then a train back to Dorchester. Then a “taxi” back to Casa Howard. What could possibly go wrong …. 😆

Alfa update: the Alfa turned up on a towrope about 6pm yesterday, which was a bit disappointing as I’d have liked to hear it running again. The garage said they were having trouble finding a replacement part. Tell me something I didn’t fuckin’ know! My Alfa might be the only one in Western Africa, so good luck finding a replacement part. Although I did tell them that I saw a face-lift Alfa 156 sitting unloved in the no man’s land mine field on the Moroccan / Mauritanian border if they’d like to pop back to get it. Photos to follow, but the Alfa will definitely get fixed (even if they have to manufacture a new sump) and will be then be auctioned off in aid of children’s charities down there so although it’s been an extremely expensive way to give to charity, at least my poor little baby will provide some comfort to someone in her old age and I’ve been afforded one hell of an adventure out of it.

Hi guys. The Alfa is a total runner. It was running as “sweet as a nut” until I messed things up. I turned the engine off as soon as I saw the oil soaking into the desert sand in my rear view mirror. So no harm done to the engine at all. Up until that point the only issues I had was the centre binicle display started to play up due to the 40 degree heat in the cabin. But the mileometer had miraculously started working, so those two things evened things out. The AC had been ripped apart by the rock during the dune dodging day. But the heater blower motor had fixed itself and was running quietly again. The handbrake cable had been ripped of by a massive rock back into the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, so I had no handbrake. And apart from that no issues. However, the battering it took during the 165 km tow to Bamako is another thing. Amazingly, the tyres seemed to have stayed at least partially inflated when I checked this morning (I didn’t put a guage on them), so I suspect they had deflated, rather than burst, simply through the constant smashing they were getting bumping through the 9 inch deep, sharp edges potholes. Did I tell you that whilst waiting for me to fix the broken towrope one time Moriah said she saw something move in a pothole just in front of their car. I think it frightened her until a medium sized chicken popped it’s head up and then clambered out of the pothole! I suspect the front suspension “may need some fettling” as there’s no way any reasonable vehicle, except the Aluminum Falcon, could have survived that battering without something breaking.

And don’t think it was just the Alfa that suffered. Apart from the Aluminum Falcon I think every other vehicle spent time in a garage at least one time. The shitheap Jaguar estate was in the garage at every major town having something or other fixed with a large hammer. I recall other vehicles having to fix intercoolers, tyres, wheels, exhausts, driveshafts, head gaskets, radiators, fuel pumps, water pumps, CV joints, etc. etc. – and that was just the stuff I heard about. Actually, even the Aluminum Falcon finished with a blowing exhaust manifold. But in truth most vehicles will have arrived at their respective destinations pretty much fucked – that’s a technical term for those who don’t know!

Early morning update – and one of the last you’ll be glad to hear. The flight from Addis Ababa to London was very civilised. It was on a nice new Airbus something, so it was all bright and shiny and not a bit like the old thing I flew into Ethiopia on. Actually, that was a horrible plane as nothing worked and there was no in-flight entertainment to take your mind off the 7 hour flight. It was a long 4.5 layover, but with your help it passed by quickly enough. As I mentioned, the flight back to Blighty, although 9.5 hours long, went smoothly enough by watching a movie (Angel has fallen – 6/10), having an ok meal, having a three hour nap, watching a movie (Ad Astra – (5/10), having a bit of breakfast and then we were coming into land. I was off the plane and through passport control in 10 minutes. 9 minutes and 30 seconds of that was the walk to passport control. The baggage took 15 minutes to turn up and ten minutes after that I had a National Express bus ticket to Poole. I actually got off at Bournemouth and not Poole, which saved me a 10 minute walk in the rain as the bus station and train station in Bournemouth are next to each other, unlike Poole. 50 minutes later I was scurrying to meet Jane at the train station in Dorchester. Not all that bad really. 10 minutes later I could have been at home, but we stopped off on the way to say “hi” to a couple of friends who had been interested in the rally. I’m now doing some washing, bemoaning the fact that the two carved wooden momentos of the rally have both been broken by some not-so-sympathetic baggage handlers somewhere. And so it ends. For now I will just let it all sink in. Maybe I’ll do a summation/conclusion tomorrow when I might actually have an idea what day and month it is. A day and a half of travelling can do that to you.

A final update: Thanks to everyone who took some interest, except Mr Richards (😀), in this latest bit of stupidity. It was a strange mix of the brilliant and the awful. Each day had a bit of both. The highlights were the way my Alfa behaved, the scenery in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, the scenery of large parts of Mauritania, the smiley people in Western Sahara, spending time driving and sleeping in the desert but, most of all, having the opportunity to meet and spent quality time with a bunch of interesting, eccentric and generous people. The bad bits (and there were some really awful bits) were the constant feeling that we were deemed to be a cash cow by the locals, having to fit in with a group of people who wanted something completely different (get drunk every night, etc.) out of the challenge to me, long periods being cold, hungry and thirsty but, most of all, the endless, pointless, time-wasting paperwork formalities along the whole length of the 4,200 miles or so of the challenge. Make no mistake, the Dakar Challenge, whether you end up in Banjul, Gambia or Bamako, Mali, is seriously tough. It’s tough on the individual in all sorts of way. It’s physically tough. It’s menatally tough. It’s emotionally tough. It’s very tough on your wallet. But most of all, it’s tough on your vehicle. Every vehicle that reached the end did so in very poor condition. The state of the roads is way beyond description or even that photographs can show. You can take photos, but not in zero-visibility dust, whilst your head is hitting the windscreen it roof because of the bumps, or simply because you are concentrating on just hanging on to something. Jarob has a time-lapse recording of a bit of a drive through a Malian village which he says gives a good indication of how tough things were. I haven’t seen it yet, but when I get a copy I will forward to you. This challenge was just so different to anything else I’ve done it’s difficult to compare it with anything. It was easier sitting in a leather bound, air conditioned car for 12 hours than it was sitting on a razorblade for 12 hours a day whilst cycling across America. But it was, overall, tougher than running the last couple of ultra marathons I’ve completed. So, in conclusion, the Dakar Challenge is a serious undertaking and not one to be underestimated. It is physically and mentally stressful on the individual and the group. It is hugely demanding on the vehicle you take and the credit cards/cash you bring with you. Am I glad I did it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Not so sure about that 😆

The Interviews – Emma Storey

The Warm Up
I’ve been following Spurs since my mum introduced me to the team for Spursiest of Cup finals in 1987. She obviously thought a comfortable win over Coventry was the perfect way to ease me into the beautiful game <sigh>.
I was so young that it took a great deal of explaining as to why we’d lost the match when our captain had scored the winning (!) goal. I guess the concept of putting the ball in the wrong net is lost on you when you’re five….
Despite that less-than-ideal introduction I’ve been hooked ever since, despite the protests of my mainly Chelsea-supporting family (I know). I was lucky enough to combine my passion with work as a sports journalist for companies like Sky, Yahoo and Reuters before moving into sports comms/PR with the International Paralympic Committee.
My current job has seen me relocate to Germany where I’ve held on to my season ticket and do my best to get back for as many games as I can. Colleagues regularly question my sanity, especially a recent humiliating trip to Burnley, but I’ll carry on for as long as I can afford it (which based on Levy’s hiking of prices in the new stadium may not be THAT much longer).
Spurs-5
As a youngster, who was your Spurs hero? 
Gary Lineker was the first player that I really fell in love with as a kid, although he had stiff competition from Gazza after THAT freekick. When I first starting going to games in the early nineties I also developed an unhealthy obsession with Darren Anderton. I even had one of those knock off t-shirts from one of the stalls on the High Road with his picture on the front and a fake number nine on the back!
Who is your favourite player from the current Squad? 
It’s hard to look past Harry really – his passion for the club and the way he has developed into the world-class striker he is over the past few years has just been an unbelievable joy to watch. Sonny is fast racing up the ranks though (have you ever seen a player so happy to play for us?!), and special mention to Eric Dier, who anyone following me on Twitter will know I have more than a soft spot for……
From world football, who would you most like to see in a Spurs shirt?
I’m going to buck the Messi trend and go for Kylian Mbappe or Jadon Sancho. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of Sancho this season in the Bundesliga (with a Dortmund-supporting boyfriend I don’t have much choice!) and he really is something special.
What is your favourite piece of Spurs memorabilia? 
I’m not a huge one for memorabilia I must admit, but I still have the first Spurs shirt I ever owned. It’s the Holsten-Adidas combo from the mid-nineties and is absolutely giant on me even now, as it was before football shirts were made for girls so I had to settle for a junior men’s one. Putting it on for the first time was one of the greatest moments of my life.
Where in the world have you watched Spurs live other than UK?
I’ve been really lucky with my European trips; Milan x3, Madrid x2, Barcelona, Eindhoven x2, Dortmund x3. Although not live I also have to mention watching games in the pub with Australia Spurs when I lived in Sydney – you’ve never known real pain until you watch us lose 5-0 at 4am on a Monday morning. Oh and also watching from South Korea last season when I was working at the Winter Paralympics – Korean TV actually has a little countdown clock in the top corner ahead of the game with Sonny’s face on it – they are THAT obsessed with him!
Which former player would you love to see in the current squad? 
That’s really really tough, Bale, Modric and van der Vaart all spring to mind, or maybe Klinsmann to form a deadly partnership with Harry.
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Most memorable Spurs moment? 
Again there are so many to pick from that it’s really hard. If we’re going for games that I was actually at it’s probably the 3-1 win over Inter at the Lane. I still have never heard anything like that night for atmosphere and the performance was just something out of dreamland. The 5-1 Cup semi-final win over the scum is a very close second! Also the last game at the Lane was absolutely unforgettable – making it onto the pitch at full time was the most crazy emotional moment for me (as the photo probably demonstrates!)
Who was your most disappointing Spurs signing? 
I had such high hopes for Paulinho! And given what he went on to do for Barca I still can’t work out what happened….
Which Spurs players (3) would you chose to join you if you were on ‘Come Dine With Me?
I know he’s not a player but can I please have Poch? Along with Sonny and Jan.
Past players/managers Crouchy, Lineker and Harry Redknapp
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Who would be in you all time Spurs XI (4,4,2 formation)?
It’s from my lifetime rather than overall – I think it’d be a disaster as a formation but there are some sentimental picks in there so I’m squeezing everyone in!
Lloris
Walker Mabbutt Ledley Vertonghen
Ginola Hoddle Gazza Bale
Kane Lineker

The Interviews – Spurs Legend – Paul ‘Maxi’ Miller

Those of a certain age will remember that back in the late 70’s and early 80’s we had a group of players who were part of a very special time for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club.

With Keith Burkinshaw as our Manager, we had a hedonistic period of lifting Silverware including FA Cups, a UEFA Cup and were regular challengers for other Major Honours.

Part of that hugely successful group was a no-nonsense Centre Back who made over 200 appearances for the Lilly Whites between 1977- 1987.

This week we are truly honoured to welcome Spurs Legend – Paul ‘Maxi’ Miller

As a youngster, who was your Spurs hero? 

Jimmy Greaves

Who is your favorite player from the current Squad? 

Harry Kane

From World football, who would you most like to see in a Spurs shirt?

Eden Hazard 

What is your favorite piece of Spurs memorabilia

My memories 

Where in the world have you watched Spurs live other than UK? 

All over Europe

Which former player would you love to see in the current squad?

Jurgen Klinsman

Most memorable Spurs moment? 

Winning trophies with them

Who was your most disappointing Spurs signing

To many to mention!

Which Spurs players (3) would you chose to join you if you were on ‘Come Dine With Me?

Ardiles Clemence and Brazil which we do often together!

Who would be in you all time Spurs XI (4,4,2 formation)?

Jennings 

Perryman Knowles

England McKay

Ardiles Hoddle Gascoigne Jones

Greaves Klinsman

Picture From : South Dorset Spurs Legends Evening

Phil Beal, Paul ‘Maxi’ Miller & David Howells

The Interviews – Footie With Dad

The Warm Up

One of the reasons why ‘Footie With Dad’ came to the fold, is because of an idea centered around the close knit bond Football has helped create between my son and I.

There were unfortunate difficulties when my son was born nearly 12 years ago, the first eleven months of his life were spent in hospital with the outcome looking bleak. During many hours, days and nights spent by his bedside wishing it was me lying there and swap places, one thought kept me going through the pain and struggle of it all – The thought of taking him to watch a game at my beloved White Hart Lane, holding him aloft as we celebrated a win – was just a small dream that I hoped that would one day become reality all being well.

However, with my son’s condition critical, the dream and the opportunity to take him to Spurs and experience what a football match is all about seemed far out of reach as time went on.

Luckily enough, i’m pleased to say, after numerous operations he became stronger and It wasn’t long before he was able to come home for the first time and meet the family properly – At the time I remember looking back and thinking about the dream I had for my son and I to go to the football together – I knew with this good news that one day my hope of taking him to football was an immense possibility!

Seven years ago the day I had been waiting for had come to the surface – I was lucky enough to take my son to his first ever football match!

As we headed into the game and the whistle blew to get the match underway, I was worried my son wouldn’t like it as much as I hyped it up in my head and that he wouldn’t want to go again with his old Dad!

I spent the whole match, not watching the match, but watching him – Thankfully, my son really enjoyed his first game and so it was that Football with Dad was born!

As a youngster, who was your Spurs hero? 

Growing up I loved watching Hoddle.

Who is your favorite player from the current Squad? 

I love getting a buzz when a player gets the ball and with Harry Kane you always feel he can do something, whether it’s a 40 yard cross field pass or 20 year thunder drive into the top corner!

From World football, who would you most like to see in a Spurs shirt?

The two best players in the world are Messi and Ronaldo but for me Messi just wins it so I would go for him

What is your favorite piece of Spurs memorabilia?

I have a signed football signed by 1984 squad which was personally given to me by Steve Perryman

Where in the world have you watched Spurs live other than UK?

last Summer I was in Los Angeles and I woke up at 3.00am in the morning to watch the 1st match of the season against Newcastle with the LA Spurs!

Which former player would you love to see in the current squad?

I would love to see Gazza back playing like he was in 1991!

Most memorable Spurs moment?

Though I watched us lift FA Cups and UEFA Cups during the 1980’s watching Spurs score and secure the result we needed in the camp boy in Barcelona with my son was a memory I will never forget!

Who was your most disappointing Spurs signing?

There have been a lot of disappointing signings over the years but I would say because of the high expectations David Bentley was hugely disappointing

Which Spurs players (3) would you chose to join you if you were on ‘Come Dine With Me?

Glenn Hoddle, Jurgen Klinsmann & David Ginola

Who would be in your all time Spurs XI ?

All Time 11 ;

Clemence

Mabbutt

Gough

Alderweireld

Bale

Hoddle

Gazza

Modric

Ginola

Klinsmann

Kane

Twitter: FootieWithDad@FootieWithDad

 

The Interviews – Anna

The Warm Up

There was never any doubt as to which club I was going to follow. It is in my blood as my Dad has been a total Spurs fan all his life and my Grandfather actually played at The Lane in the war league once as a “guest player”.

As soon as it was practical Dad got me a season ticket and I have been going home (and often away) ever since, although this season away ticket availability has been like gold dust.

I started my YouTube channel Spurs{XY} at the back end of 2016 mainly to record our last season at the Lane and as an attempt to give fans who can’t get to games, the chance to experience the atmosphere of being at Spurs games. I have vlogged a few away trips and also try to get to as many Spurs Ladies games as possible.

As a youngster, who was your Spurs hero?

Probably Ledley simply because he was “one of our own” before we even sang that, and the first games I saw was with he and Naybet at the back. Keano comes a close second, I used to love his celebration!

I was lucky enough to meet Ledley as a signing session he had at a Spurs Ladies game last season.

Who is your favourite player from the current Squad?

Absolutely no doubt about that – Harry Kane. Actually, I feel really privileged to have been able to watch his career develop in the amazing way it has – and with him at Spurs the whole time.

From World football, who would you most like to see in a Spurs shirt?

That’s a no brainer – Lionel Messi. I love Barcelona as a city and Barca would be my favourite club from the continent. It will never happen, but he and Harry in the same team would rip most sides to shreds.

What is your favourite piece of Spurs memorabilia?

Again, that is easy. I have some great signed photos, flags and shirts, but my scarf with 100+ Spurs badges – some from Spurs fans around the world takes pride of place.

Where in the world have you watched Spurs live other than UK?

Sadly, only in the UK. School and university studies have made trips abroad tough to arrange – Madrid later this year for the Champions League final would be good though!

Which former player would you love to see in the current squad?

My dad would probably say Dave Mackay, but from the players I have seen I guess Gareth Bale at his best would be the one that could help take us to the next level.

Most memorable Spurs moment?

Wow – tough question. The Carling Cup win at Wembley, the “taxi for Maicon” win over Inter, or the win at Wembley over Real Madrid would be the most memorable games. I would add to that Dele’s outstanding goal I saw at Palace as a fabulous moment.

I am probably going to opt for the Inter win, simply because it was at the The Lane under the lights and therefore so much more magical.

Who was your most disappointing Spurs signing?

Tough question as I dislike knocking players when there are often all sorts of reasons for things not working out. Obviously today folk might pick out Janssen but one player who seemed to have the talent but never really clicked with us was Giovani Dos Santos.

Which Spurs players (3) would you chose to join you if you were on ‘Come Dine With Me?

Lovely question, with so many options! I think Sonny has to be there, guaranteed fun when he’s around.

Who would be in your all time Spurs XI ?

Obviously, there are the legends like Greaves, Mackay, Ossie, Glen, Gazza, Lineker but I am going to restrict this XI to players I have seen live myself. This includes the goals from the likes of Defoe and Keano, the brilliance of Berbatov, and the aggression of Edgar Davids. Surprisingly, when I look at my line-up, I also see that 6 of the XI are still current players, which I reckon speaks volumes for where we are now, and how much we have achieved under Poch.

A very fluid 4-1-3-2 that I reckon would be a pleasure to watch playing football the Spurs way.

Hugo – a Spurs world cup winner, but even more of a legend after that penalty save in the NLD.

Defenders would include Ledley, a brilliant ball playing defender who would have been the best in the world with 2 good knees, alongside Super Jan Vertonghen. At full back I would have the pace and aggression of Danny Rose and Kyle Walker to provide genuine width.

Midfield is a bit spoilt for choice. I would have Dembele in there as the best and strongest I have seen at breaking up play and driving forward with the ball.

Then a trio with the graft and sweet left foot of Luka Modric, the audacity, magic and late runs into the box from Dele and the creativity and passing ability of Christian Eriksen (who just edges out Rafa Van der Vaart).

Up top the best centre forward in the world in Harry Kane, partnered by the pace and goals of Gareth Bale

Managed, of course, by Poch – “he is magic you know”.

Follow Anna on twitter

Anna@annaxysports

The Interviews – Stacey1882

The Warm Up

This week I took a trip to Dortmund to watch the mighty Tottenham Hotspur in Round 16 of the Champions League. My second away trip abroad this season which has also included PSV Eindhoven and a seat in the home end (family section just above the Ultras).

This trip would be different as on this particular occasion as I would be sat in the away end (Block 56).  Always a lively experience, involving lots of beers, songs and meeting fantastic like minded people who live and breathe Lilly White.

During the Monday night excursion to Dortmund (after traveling 13 hours across Europe) I visited the Alten Markt. A small bar on the edge of the main Square. Through the door and into the melee of Spurs songs and beers showers, a bearded Gentlemen passed me by and without hesitation I recognized him as Stace.

I’d followed his Twitter account for some time as its one of the rare sources of information on the New Stadium that offers a perspective through the eyes of the Construction Team. This account and a couple of others have stood above the fake news that have consistently dashed or dismissed our hopes of finally playing in our new home this season.  I have to admit; I’ve never been so interested in Fire Panels and Public Announcement Systems and probably never will again.

Anyway, great to meet you Stace and many others on this amazing trip.

Spurs go Marching on to the UCL Quarter Finals.

Now for the  interview …Enjoy……

As a youngster, who was your Spurs hero? 

The one and only Glenn Hoddle, nobody comes close. When he left for Monaco it took me months to get over it…

Who is your favorite player from the current Squad? 

Harry Kane, the lad has it all

From World football, who would you most like to see in a Spurs shirt?

Messi, what more can you say.

What is your favorite piece of Spurs memorabilia?

Signed Jamie Defoe shirt.
Where in the world have you watched Spurs live other than UK?

Going away to watch us v Dortmund for the very first time next week…I have never had the money to watch us away.

Which former player would you love to see in the current squad?

A fit Gareth Bale..

Most memorable Spurs moment?

Seeing Tony Parks save the penalty in the 1984 & watching Graham Roberts lift the UEFA cup final.

Who was your most disappointing Spurs signing?

Jason Cundy, the man was rubbish, never played & just talks cack…

Which Spurs players (3) would you chose to join you if you were on ‘Come Dine With Me?

Dele, Dier & Hugo as I know we would have some great food & plenty of drink lol

Who would be in your all time Spurs XI ?

  • 1. Pat Jennings
  • 2. Kyle Walker
  • 3. Ledley King
  • 4. Jan Vertonghen
  • 5. Danny Rose
  • 6. Danny Blanchflower
  • 7. Paul Gascoigne
  • 8. Glenn Hoddle
  • 9. John White
  • 10. Harry Kane
  • 11. Jimmy Greaves
Extra Time
Team Changes 
My team does not work… Gazza out, Glenn & Danny in the middle. John White on the left, and add Terry Dyson in front of Kyle Walker
Special Moments
Also another moment for me was Ricky Villas goal V City in the FA Cup final.

Follow Stace1882 via Twitter #Stac@Stacey1882 

The Interviews – Josh – Punjabi Spurs

At the start of the 17/18 Season , the wrecking ball was doing its work on the old White Hart Lane and Spurs had moved to Wembley Stadium.

With their beloved LT’s & The Gilpin Bell many miles away in North London, it was time for the SDS to find a new venue for pre-match food, drinks and socials.

Thanks to some sterling work by our Chair (Tony Baylis) via Twittersphere, SDS managed to hook up with a group based at the Novotel, Wembley Way called ‘Punjabi Spurs‘.

Our match day experience would never to be the same again.

At the fore front of the group was a Gentleman who requires little introduction and whose enthusiasm for football and the mighty Lilly Whites knows no bounds.

This week we welcome our great friend and fantastic host Josh – Punjabi Spurs

Enjoy………..

The Warm Up

Josh here, grew up in Stoke on Trent and fell in love with Tottenham and been a fan since 1987.

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As a youngster, who was your Spurs hero?

Loved Gazza, Klinsmann and Ginola! Idolised all three, just pure class.

Who is your favorite player from the current Squad?

It was Dembele until a month ago, now I’d have to say Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris, both ooze class.

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From World football, who would you most like to see in a Spurs shirt?

Messi…we once had Maradona in a Spurs shirt, it’s only right we had Messi wearing the famous Lilywhite jersey as well.

What is your favorite piece of Spurs memorabilia?

I took a gangway sign from the South Stand after the Finale game against United and managed to take some soil when I ran on the pitch…it’s in a pot at home!

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Where in the world have you watched Spurs live other than UK?

Turkey, Israel, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal during European cup competitions.

Which former player would you love to see in the current squad?

Danny Blanchflower, knows how to captain and lead a team to glory!

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Most memorable Spurs moment?

5-1 vs Woolwich in the Cup Semi Final. Greatest game ever witnessed for me. I must have jumped three rows every time we scored. Nobody in the South Lower was near their seat they were meant to be at by the time the fifth went in. It was carnage! Best ever. It was also the first time I saw all four stands including Paxton and West Stand on their feet singing for the last ten minutes…the song obviously being “Que Sera Sera”

Who was your most disappointing Spurs signing?

Harsh question as I feel it’s never the players fault for being signed by the club so we shouldn’t give them grief for not being good enough, especially as we demand quality football. But the biggest disappointments for me were Judas for obvious reasons and Hossam Ghaly…simply because he threw our shirt! They both didn’t deserve the beautiful Lilywhite jersey!

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Which Spurs players (3) would you chose to join you if you were on ‘Come Dine With Me?

Bill Nicholson, Keith Burkinshaw and Mauricio Pochettino…All three just ooze class. I’d use the opportunity to learn what the club means to them and how they made it their own in their own respective eras. And hopefully give Bill Nic and Keith an opportunity to pass on a few tricks to Poch to get us over the line for some trophies! 🙂

Who would be in your all time Spurs XI (4,4,2 formation)?

I have to go for a 3-4-3 because for me we we’ve had some of the greatest attacking players ever, I’d go all out attack.

Hugo Lloris

Ledley King

Danny Blanchflower

Gary Mabbutt

David Ginola

Glenn Hoddle

Dave MacKay

Paul Gascoigne

Jurgen Klinsmann

Harry Kane

Jimmy Greaves

Manager: Bill Nicholson

Assist Manager: Keith Burkinshaw

Attacking Coach: Ossie Ardiles

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There are several players there I’ve not seen play, but they are what makes our club so great “and if, you know, your history, it’s enough to make your heart go wooooooh”

We’ve had some great keepers over the years like Big Pat, but as a kid I loved Erik Thorsvedt. Erik was going to be my pick but I think Hugo has to take the spot, he’s been unbelievable for us and will surely be a life long legend.

The defence could have had a few more in like Steve Perryman etc, but Ledley, what can I say, just the best I’ve seen, best English defender of his time FACT! He had to be there. Mabbsy because again he was quality and a compliment to the club. Moved Blanchflower back in defence and I’d make him captain as I think he’d lead us to glory!

Midfield…untouchable! Just look at it. No way you’re getting past Dave MacKay. Ginola and Gazza running at you, swapping sides when they want and just destroying anyone and everyone. And just to finish it off, God! Hoddle, one the most gifted players ever to pull the strings on the pitch.

Strikers…Who is stopping these boys??? Klinsmann world class! World Cup winner, one of the best ever. Greavesy…our all time greatest goal scorer, also a World Cup winner. And now Harry…who will finish up as our greatest goal scorer and England’s all time goal scorer for sure.

Coaching staff: Manager has to be Bill Nic, Mr Tottenham Hotspur himself. The General to assist him as he’s our second most successful manager and I have to have Ossie as an attacking coach,  just to remind the boys they’re all allowed to attack when they want! 😉

Thanks for the chance to talk Spurs, huge love to the SDS family. Can’t thank you all enough for the love you give and for looking after me. See you at the next game!

COYS!!!

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The Y Word – A Personal View

Credit: Martin – South Dorset Spurs

The Y Word – A personal view

Recently I was listening to Chelsea fan David Baddiel on Desert Island Disks and he spoke about the need to mock others as a valid response. This is really useful when you can’t get involved in a discussion.

I grew up within the sound of White Hart Lane on match days and so could never have been part of any other fan base. I am also a Jew which means my formative years were quite strange. I became used to regularly being called ‘Jew Boy’ or having halfpennies thrown at my feet to see if I would collect them. Us Jews ate school lunches at a separate table as we had kosher food and we were paraded in at the end of assembly after the religious observance bit. I got used to being unusual and found ways to cope or ignore it. Then in the 70’s I started going to WHL and became aware of the Yiddos chant. Initially I thought ‘here we go again’ and then realised that a whole crowd was mocking the opposing fans and welcoming me! I felt completely at home and saw this as such a mature response. It was like saying ‘We’ve got Jewish fans, so what’. The gay community have done a similar thing by reclaiming the words Queer or Gay which are rarely used as a term of ridicule these days.

Of course most if not all clubs have diverse fans but I can’t recall any other supporters celebrating this.

I did have a discussion with a Jewish Chelsea fan, we were both part of the same youth organisation, who publicly objects to the use of the Y word and can be found on You Tube expressing his opinion. I tried to explain how I felt about the Y word and that I had never found a Spurs fan, Jewish or otherwise who objects to the chant of Yiddos. I also suggested that the anti-Semitic chants by his club was much more of a concern and perhaps he chose the wrong team to support.

It is obvious to me that the battle is pretty much won. The only anti-Jewish chants we get are so vile that it is clear that they, not us, have a real problem.

Perhaps though it is time that we developed an additional chant to celebrate to diversity of support our team enjoy and I have an offering. This does require some explanation which goes against the grain for a chant but its a starter for others to contribute to.

To appreciate it you have to know that a suffix of ‘im’ (male) and ‘ot’ (female) are normal in Hebrew and occasionally used in English. Cherubim and Kibbutzim are examples. Tottenhim could be male spurs fans and Tottenhot,  female spurs fans. I do need to check if the women are happy being referred to at ‘hot’.

And so, to be chanted responsively

Tottenhim, Tottenhot

Totten-gay, Totten-not

Totten-black, Totten-white

Arsenal,   and I can’t think of a rhyme with white, any offers?

Proud Yiddo Martin

The Interviews – Ashley Porter

The Warm Up

 I’m Ashley, I’m the vice-chair of Lancashire Spurs supporters’ club, and a We Are Tottenham TV fangirl. I’ve only been a Spurs fan since 2011, when I was roped into watching the football and then fell in love with the game and the club. 

As a youngster, who was your Spurs hero? 

I was 19 when I started watching football, so I’d say my first Spurs hero was Gareth Bale. 

Who is your favorite player from the current Squad? 

It’s got to be Kane, hasn’t it? I’m obsessed! But other than Harry, I’m a huge fan of Son at the moment. He’s magnificent and always has a smile on his face. 

From World football, who would you most like to see in a Spurs shirt?

If you’d asked me a while ago I would have said Neymar but his diving annoys me, so how about a glorious return for Gareth Bale?! 

What is your favorite piece of Spurs memorabilia? 

Tough one, as I’ve mainly been a fan on my own and haven’t really had many people to share it with or the chance to collect much memorabilia. I like keeping my tickets though. 

Where in the world have you watched Spurs live other than UK? 

Just Barcelona so far, but I’m heading out to Dortmund in a couple of weeks! 

Which former player would you love to see in the current squad? 

I think Modric could really do wonders for us in midfield.

Most memorable Spurs moment? 

The first Champions League game I attended, which was Real Madrid at home in 2017 and we won 3-1. My first European away trip to Barcelona in December 2018 was also very memorable! 

Who was your most disappointing Spurs signing? 

Soldado and Paulinho were a bit disappointing. I feel bad saying that though! 

Which Spurs players (3) would you chose to join you if you were on ‘Come Dine With Me?

Son, Rose and Dele. I think they’d be a laugh. 

Who would be in you all time Spurs XI (4,4,2 formation)?

I’m just going to pick players who’ve played for us while I’ve been watching to make it easier.

.. Lloris – Rose, Vertonghen, King, Walker – Bale, Modric, Dembele, Eriksen – Kane, Defoe. 

The Interviews – Ben Daniel – We Are Tottenham TV

This week SDS had the opportunity to catch up with one of the true pioneers of the football VLOG.

Well known for recording the experience of attending football matches with their Grandad. Their natural ability to project the story, accompanied by an infectious enthusiasm for all things Lillywhite , has quickly turned ‘We Are Tottenham TV’ into a hugely successful You Tube sensation with their own channel followed by thousands of loyal fans.

This week we welcome one half of the successful WATTV duo – Ben Daniel

Enjoy…

The Warm Up

My names Ben Daniel, co creator of WeAreTottenhamTV. I’ve been going to Tottenham since my dad brainwashed me when I was 7 years old in 1996. Completely fell in love with the club after I first stepped foot into WHL.

As a youngster, who was your Spurs hero?

As a youngster my hero was David Ginola. To win double player of the year in 1999, the year Man Utd won the treble says it all.

Who is your favorite player from the current Squad?

That’s a difficult one as we have a squad full of a stars now but if I had to pick one it would have to be Harry Kane, need I say more?

From World football, who would you most like to see in a Spurs shirt?

If I had the chance to pick one player in the world to sign for Tottenham it would have to be Mbappe. One of the worlds best players at 19 and will for sure go on to be the worlds best.

What is your favorite piece of Spurs memorabilia?

My favourite piece of spurs memorabilia is the stacks and stacks of spurs programmes that have been passed through from my family some dating back to the 50’s!

Where in the world have you watched Spurs live other than UK?

I’ve watched Spurs live all over Europe like places including France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Holland

Which former player would you love to see in the current squad?

It’s got to be Gareth Bale, I was extremely gutted when he left

Most memorable Spurs moment?

The 2 that really stick out for me was beating Chelsea in 2008 Cup final and the scenes after we beat City in the champions league play off in 2010

Who was your most disappointing Spurs signing?

Oh god we’ve had many over the years but I think Sergei Rebrov or Helder Postiga have got to be up there.

Which Spurs players (3) would you chose to join you if you were on ‘Come Dine With Me?

Haha I think I would have to pick Sonny, Dele and Aurier

Who would be in you all time Spurs XI (4,4,2 formation)?

I’m going to give you a in my life time starting 11

Lloris – rose vertonghen king walker – ginola modric Dembele Bale – Kane Sheringham