When the wheels fall off..

This is a post of an article I found while clearing out my house. It’s a true story I wrote for Wanderlust magazine in 1998 after returning from Nigeria. It’s a little rough around the edges though seems in spirit with my usual blog posts so sharing here, enjoy!


I was standing under a tree in the middle of a scrapyard in Nigeria. Well actually it was a motor park but scrapyard is a pretty accurate description. I wanted to travel from Makurdi to Kaduna and needed transport.

As I looked on amongst all the hustle and bustle, I managed to spot two vehicles with signs on saying Kaduna, so I set off towards them, this was not as easy as it may sound. I had to get past a mob of children selling things, numerous chances of getting pick pocketed, and the constant tugging on my clothes that came with both.

The drivers of each of the cars beckoned me their way, competing for my custom by trying to take my backpack and ushering me into their vehicle, it was quite the tug of war. The deciding factor for any journey I had taken in the last few months was the condition of the vehicle and this time was no different. Clinging onto my bag I assessed my options, neither taxi would be considered road worthy in the UK (where my MK II VW Golf sat in a barn on a farm in a Herefordshire, awaiting my return). I chose the better of the two, a standard 5 seater saloon, my choice came down to visibility, the better of the two had less cracks on the drivers side of the windscreen.

I then stood by my chosen chariot, waiting for it to fill up with other passengers. In Nigeria you pay for a space in a taxi, then it can take minutes or hours to fill up. When I say fill up, a 5 seater is often used as a 6 or 7 seater depending on the size of the occupants, so it really does get full.

It took an hour waiting for 6 others to choose the same taxi, we then squeezed in, me half perched on the handbrake, sharing the front seat with a smaller guy who seemed to think this was normal (it was). It definitely wasn’t going to be the most comfortable journey I’d taken in recent times.

We sped off, hitting the open road and quickly reaching what felt like 90mph (an estimate as none of the dials on the dashboard were working). I’m not embarrassed to admit I was a little frightened and holding onto anything that would stay in place.

Every now and then we’d come across a Police road block. This is where police asked for bribes, and in order for us to continue taxis would normally pass money out of the window as they passed through. However, with me as a passenger it was always different..It was assumed I was rich and so each time we hit a road block (5 in all) I was beckoned from the vehicle, interrogated and my bag searched. It was a lottery regarding how I was treated, sometimes with friendly jollity, sometimes told to put my hands on the car and a gun pointed at me while my wallet was taken and money stolen. Such is the life of a travelling volunteer in the most corrupt country in the world. The road blocks were supposed to be in place to catch criminals on the move, the police used them to increase their almost non existent salaries.

During the journey I talked with the person next to me, he talked of his dream to travel to America and enjoy the freedom of capitalism. Our conversation reminded me to keep my views in check, as whatever I thought of capitalism and my lack of freedom, it was actually a freedom and one of choices I enjoyed, unlike what was available to my new friend next to me.

At one point on our journey he was working hard at converting me from my agnostic attitude towards Christianity, when we heard some disturbing noises coming from somewhere at the front of the car. There was a loud crunch and I was thrown into his lap with my head smashing into the windscreen. The glass shattered, firing small blocks of it throughout the vehicle. Strangely no one screamed, and all I heard were murmurs coming from the back seat. The driver and passengers were worried I was hurt, though it turned out I was fine, just a small bump. The windscreen had given up easily due to the numerous cracks it had.

As we clambered out of the taxi one by one we could see the driver looking at the near side front wheel, where there was no longer a wheel. It had disappeared into a bush nearby, fallen off as we were racing down the sandy road to what looked like nowhere.

We were in the middle of the bush, on a bumpy track miles from the nearest town, in sweltering heat with little water and food. We needed that fourth wheel on pretty desperately.

There was a jack in the boot and I agreed to jack up the car while the driver and my new friend collected the wheel. The wheel was put back on and we quickly realised there were no longer any nuts to hold it in place. The driver shrugged and told us to wait while he went for help.

As I stared in disbelief at him walking away, I looked around at the rest of the passengers, hoping we could talk alternative solutions. They were settling in with blankets and making shade with their umbrellas, it was evident this wasn’t an unusual event.

As I continued to look at the driver walking further away, I began to think hard. I’m not great at quick thinking, though I was fresh out of an engineering education and job. One where I’d spent years learning how to problem solve with what was available to me (physically and mentally).

I ran after the driver, waving my arms like a lunatic. He stopped and I explained the idea I’d thought of. He smiled a big smile and hugged me so hard and unexpectedly I had the wind knocked out of me. What was my idea? Simple really, take a nut from each of the remaining wheels and tighten all the wheels on with just 3 nuts each, who needs 4? 3 was going to hold them enough for us to make it to the next town.

So that’s what we did, and you know what? It worked! The mood for the rest of our journey was one of exited conversation, laughing and the feeling we had been saved from a slow, boring demise in the middle of the desert.

At Kaduna, feeling a sense of comradeship, we said our farewells. I jumped on the back of a motor bike taxi (125cc Honda) with no helmet and my backpack on the handlebars out front with the driver. We weaved in and out of chaotic traffic, people and livestock and it was at that moment I realised I was living my dream. One filled with adventure, volunteering my time to help others and taking risks I wasn’t able to back home.

If you’re at a place where you can see your life ahead of you already mapped out, a life you haven’t planned and purposefully put in place, then maybe it’s time for you to leave your comfort zone and find adventure too?

5 Share Friday – 18 May 2018

1. Quote I’ve been pondering –  “The challenge of life, I have found, is to build a resume that doesn’t simply tell a story about what you want to be, but it’s a story about who you want to be.” –  Oprah Winfrey

2. Inspiring video I’ve watched – Staying with Oprah Winfrey, she did a USC commencement speech recently and this site summarises 8 amazing life lessons that came from it. I love her emphasis on truth, encouraging us to make the choice every day to exemplify honesty, because the truth exonerates and convicts. It disinfects, and it galvanises.

3. What I’ve been listening to – A friend pointed me to Rainymood, a place that plays the sound of rain and calming storms. There is even an app for your phone. I’ve been using it for over a week now and find it mesmerising as well as comforting, especially while I’m working away on my computer. Try it and see for yourself.

4. Article I’ve been researchingGoogle are helping make tech less addictive. It’s somewhat ironic given Google’s long term success is based on people being addicted to their devices and software. However, the company is recognising they have a responsibility and duty of care inline with a world wide movement that’s gaining traction around awareness of tech addiction and it’s negative effects. Google now have Digital wellbeing, go check it out.

5. Cool tool I’ve been using – for the last 10 years I’ve had a Swiss Utili-Key 6 in 1 on my key ring. In the last few days I’ve had several admirers of it as well as people needing to use it. It’s actually reminded me how useful it is. What’s so special about it? It’s ultra-light and durable with a straight knife blade and a serrated cutting surface, a flat screwdriver, a Phillips screwdriver, a micro-sized screwdriver, and a bottle opener, and weighs in at an amazing 0.5 oz! No keyring should be without one..

All aboard the fate train

More recently I’ve had the opportunity to turn left, turn right or keep moving straight on. I’ve made a few life changing choices that have led me to experience unfamiliar emotions, places and people. On reflection can all of this really be random and do we as people have control of our lives?

For many the belief in a masterplan is necessary thinking, otherwise life is just a random sequence of events and choices. The masterplan can also be akin to a safety net and like serving a God, serving a masterplan can relinquish a level of responsibility in life, after all “it was meant to be”.

I go big on making choices in my life, yet what intrigues me now more than ever is whether these choices really do control my experiences and destinations. Do we really have a choice in who we meet, love and the places we visit and live?

For me this question gets more interesting when I think of the times in my life where I had little or no choice. As a baby left alone in a playpen or cot throughout the day and night, as a toddler told I could been seen and shouldn’t be heard and as an impressionable youngster emotionally wrecked till I couldn’t face being around people anymore. I either couldn’t make a choice or didn’t realise I had any available. Was the Marcus fate train on its tracks and I the passenger being taken to all the various stops of its choosing? Did fate cement my foundational experiences and shape me for my life to come?

Perhaps it’s my choice to make a choice or is fate the reason I now have a choice? Do the choices I make all lead to the place or people fate intended anyway? What really is fate and are the choices I’ve made simply controlling the journey to where fate has already determined I’m going?

In the last 6 months I’ve become more open to fate and the idea of a masterplan. I’m not serving it, I’m still making choices yet it seems more and more credible that fate is part of my life and balancing choice with fate helps my happy existence. We can’t choose our genes though we can choose how to live with them.

So, although we own our own story, has fate put the framework for our story in place well in advance? Maybe.. either way balancing total control and going where life takes you is probably the path to happiness and it’s one I’m learning to get better at each day.


5 Share Friday – 11 May 2018

1. Quote I’m pondering this week “Don’t worry when you are not recognised, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”Abraham Lincoln

2. Work, sleep, family, fitness, or friends–pick three. This is the mantra of many entrepreneurs, specifically Randi and Mark Zuckerberg. I wrangle with this myself so don’t believe it’s just an entrepreneurs struggle. How is it possible to do great things with your employer, your family, your friends and your own health all at the same time? It’s not..We all have phases in life where we sacrifice one of these for another and getting it right can be tricky. Once you have you’re own family however, it’s not hard to realise the right thing is to never sacrifice them for anything, that makes the decision making a little easier..

3. New habit I’ve started – Every evening at 6:30pm my phone buzzes with a calendar reminder for 2 minutes of gratitude. I got the idea from this internet post. Lately with my days blurring into a humdrum of organising a house / country move and staying on top of work it’s been tough, with my mind suffering a little. Setting this simple reminder enables me to stop whatever I’m doing and remember how privileged I am to be here, have the experiences I have and know the people I know. I’m a week in and it’s been ineffable, try it yourself and see!

4. I was sent this clip of When Harry Met Sally recently as a reminder of how funny the film is. It got me thinking about how the film influenced my thinking all those years ago. That is, believing heterosexual men and women can never just be friends. Is this Hollywood or actually true? Have I been missing out on some great friendships? I did some research and wrote about it here . My conclusion is heterosexual men and women can be just friends, though it doesn’t mean attraction doesn’t always exist for one or both of them.

5. Music I’ve been listening too – We’ve been listening to Matt Costa’s Songs We Sing album over breakfast and also while lego building before school this week. It’s lovely to see Mack tapping his feet and even starting to sing tunes like the Sunshine song while he’s concentrating on his lego creations. Music is such a great thing in our lives, I even listen to this album while working (normally songs that include singing aren’t good for concentration). If you haven’t heard the album you can here it on iTunes and Spotify.

Have a great weekend gratituders!