James & ‘Beth’, taking a bath – Mandina Balong, Makasutu Culture Forest, The Gambia, West Africa. Image © Jason Florio
The ‘River Gambia Expedition 2012 – 1000km source to sea African odyssey’ is dedicated to the memory of a great friend, inspirator, poet and global traveller: James English 1939-2011
Florio and I had both known James English for 15 or 16 years, when we got the saddest news imaginable, last August, that he had only a short time left on this earth. James had been diagnosed with cancer and, tragically, it had gotten the better of him.
I remember when we first received the news, via email, whilst on an idyllic little island off the coast Quintana Roo, Mexico. Being on the paradise island suddenly felt surreal and, somehow… wrong, to be there. We immediately called James on Skype – he was in hospital by that time. I listened as Flo spoke to him, hearing James’s’ voice was like I’d always heard it…joking, cheery, optimistic, so alive and vibrant – and then, at once, philosophical about what was happening to him “its like all the colour’s of the rainbow have come together…I can see everything so clearly now” he said, accepting of what was happening to him. I’ll never forget those words. By October, we were at his funeral.
I couldn’t even speak to him, as I sat there listening to his voice coming out of the ether, philosophising… I was looking out at the ocean, quietly crying, and I didn’t want him to hear me, because I knew he would try to reassure me that ‘everything was alright’, or that ‘everything happens for a reason’…that’s the kind of selfless person he was. And, after all, it wasn’t about me. He was the one who had just been told he had only a few short weeks, a couple of months on the outside, left to live. How unfathomable it must be, to be told that.
My heart was more that a little broken on that day…James was one of my oldest and dearest Gambia friends. I had first met James and Lawrence Williams, his business partner and another great friend of ours, when they were still building up what would eventually become an award-winning Eco Lodge down there – Mandina River Lodges and Makasutu Culture Forest. An inspirational pair, to be sure. It’s also, coincidentally, the place where I first met Mr Florio – many, many, huge West Africa moons ago.
We’ll miss – we do miss – James and his worldly-wise storytelling and poetry reading, whilst sitting at the bar drinking a cold Julbrew, surrounded by their faithful English sheep dogs, and bush dogs, with names like Mac and Tosh, Beth, Yassa… James was a true gentleman and a scholar, who never ceased to make me laugh – even when he was groping my bum! How could one fail to laugh at this cheeky chappy, with his ever-so, always-neatly-trimmed, white beard, tattooed to the max (and he would drop his trousers in a flash – pun intended – to show you his tattooed posterior! I don’t think he had his first professional tattoo’s until he was 60) and his pristine, freshly laundered and pressed, Addict UK clothing – despite the fact that he was in his early 70′s – ’72 going on 20′, I’d always say – he was one of the youngest-minded, spirited, most forward-thinking men I knew.
When we go back down to begin the River Gambia Expedition 2012, later this year, it will be the first time going to The Gambia in over 15 years that James won’t be there…I can’t even begin to imagine Makasutu without him. However, he has left such a legacy that I know his presence will be felt everywhere. Such a special human being cannot of walked this planet and not leave a echo’s of himself here, there…and everywhere he travelled.
James & Helen, Base Camp, Makasutu Culture Forest, Dec 2009 – after returning from ‘A Short Walk in the Gambian Bush – a 930km African odyssey‘. Image © Jason Florio
We’ll raise a Julbrew, with Larry, to you when we get back down to Makasutu.
You’ll always be missed, James English – 1939-2011
Hxx & Flo xx
We also sadly lost two more Gambian friends last year: Ramon – the master wood carver at Makasutu and Malang, who ran the Makasutu Wildlife Trust with James. R.I.P.