Bob Marley’s Surfboard (2015)


Bob Marley’s Surfboard by Chris Green

I don’t have Bob Marley down as a surfer. Maybe I am showing some prejudice but to me, surfing conjures up images of blond hair, VW campers, and The Beach Boys. Although I have never been to Jamaica, it is hard to imagine that the government yard in Trench Town Bob grew up in would have offered many opportunities for surfing. Or that the tight security on his punishing touring schedule would have allowed this kind of freedom. It is a surprise therefore when on my daily trawl through the miscellaneous collectibles on ebay I see Bob Marley’s surfboard advertised.

Collecting celebrity memorabilia is not without an element of risk. Painstaking research is necessary and it sometimes takes a trained eye to confirm that an item is genuine. With Elvis’s medicine cabinet, authentication was relatively easy. It was not the gold EAP monogram, the inlaid rhinestones or the bullet holes that gave it away, but primarily the sheer size of the cabinet. Only someone with Elvis’s huge appetite for prescription drugs could have needed one so large. The shipping cost me nearly as much as the cabinet and then I had to modify the houseboat to get it inside. Quite often there is an element of trust involved, for instance, Roy Orbison’s prescription Wayfarers. Had I not bought them on a bona fidé collectors’ site, I would have avoided these. But how could you certify an item as random as Bob Marley’s surfboard?

I encountered similar problems authenticating Buddy Holly’s yoga mat. Who would have thought that growing up in post-war Texas that yoga would have been a significant feature of Buddy’s daily life? Who would have thought that he would have had time for yoga, what with writing hundreds of songs, touring non stop and then dying at the age of twenty two? But a little research showed that Buddy had in fact met beat writer, Jack Kerouac on several occasions and seemed to have picked up a little Eastern philosophy from him. Buddy may well have written Peggy Sue or Raining in my Heart on this very mat.

A few exchanges of emails with the advertiser of the board reveals that he lives in the small village of Rhossili on the Welsh coast. This part of the coast is popular amongst surfers and the seller, who is called Grover, maintains quite simply that he acquired the item from a fellow surfer who strangely enough is also called Grover. Grover is a common name in those parts he assures me, nearly as common as Delroy or Tupac.

I wonder momentarily what happened to home-grown names like Rhys and Ifan, but do not dwell on it. There is business to be done.

How does Grover know that it is Bob Marley’s surfboard’, seems the obvious question so I mail this enquiry to him.

While he is a little light on verifiable facts, he informs me that surfing is very popular amongst reggae artists and Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, and Prince Fari are all frequent visitors to the Gower peninsula. And Beenie Man was there just last week on the beach with two sistas in tow. If I am interested, he also has a pair of Oakley sunglasses that once belonged to Big Youth on his ebay auction site and a wetsuit belonging to Althea of Althea and Donna.

I have a look on his other ebay items. There are in fact no bids on either of the items that he mentioned, nor Burning Spear’s barbecue, or Max Romeo’s snorkel. But with the houseboat absolutely chocca, I am not especially interested in C listers mementos. I have resolved to concentrate my attentions on memorabilia of major celebrities.

Alarmingly, though, the bidding on Bob Marley’s surfboard has gone up to £1000. Clearly other collectors are after it too. And still two days to go. I need to make my way down to Rhossili to research first hand before committing myself to what could be a reckless bid on the item.

I browse the Gower websites and although these are thin on the ground I cannot help but feel a little concerned that their photos of surfers reveal a noticeable absence of dreadlocks. Not even a token Rasta. But there are photos of miles and miles of sweeping empty beaches. It seems plausible that the Jamaican surfers prefer the more private spots where they can light up their spliffs and chalices and that they have managed to avoid being caught on camera. The sites all stress the point that The Gower is the country’s best kept secret.

I decide, what the heck! Either way, it doesn’t matter. I had a bit of a windfall selling Kurt Cobain’s tennis racket I deserve a nice break by the sea. I haven’t had a holiday since Rosie left last year. Rosie didn’t have the same enthusiasm for living on a houseboat that I do. She wanted a summer house and a fitted kitchen and somewhere to hang her dresses. I hear from Geoff that she is now living in Reading with someone who directs television commercials. All water under the bridge.

Looking at the map Rhossili is not all that far away, perhaps a hundred and fifty miles, and the Volvo needs a good run. To be honest, it probably needs a proper service, but this can wait until I get back. I pack a few clothes in a bag, the laptop, a few cans of Red Bull and some crunchy nut chocolate bars for the journey and set off. It is mid morning and the weather forecast for the rest of the day is good. I stop off at Blockbuster to take back my overdue DVDs and the pharmacy to pick up my tablets.

I bump into Wet Blanket Ron outside the newsagents. He asks me if I am still interested in buying B. B. King’s suitcase.

I am not really sure I do, but I am too polite to give Ron the brush off. He takes offence quite easily.

Why don’t you advertise it on ebay, I ask?

I was waiting to see if you wanted it first,’ he says. He has that hangdog look about him.

I am anxious to avoid a long conversation. Something awful is bound to have happened to him lately and he is just waiting for the right opening to tell me all about it. I tell him I am off for a few days and that I will be in touch when I get back.

I drive down the M5 towards the M4, a route I took many years ago, when I was beginning my career in collectibles. On that occasion, I bought Eddie Cochran’s wristwatch from an auction in Chipping Sodbury. My intention had been to buy Brian Jones’s alarm clock, but I was outbid. This was around the time that Stacey moved out, saying that I was obsessed with dead pop stars and that there was so much junk around the flat that there was no room for her and the children. I argued of course that none of it was junk and I was certainly not obsessed and anyway not all of the pop stars were dead. For instance, David Bowie, whose stylophone I had just bought, was not dead. Nor were Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich as far as I knew. And where would we be without their tea towels?

I missed the children very much at first, especially Simon, the elder of the two. He was the one most affected by Stacey and I splitting up. Garfunkel, of course, was too young to realise what was going on, although we have kept up a relationship and he does still come to see me occasionally on the houseboat.

I become distracted by the Glamorgan welcomes Careful Drivers road sign. The sign has its equivalent in Welsh and displays a silhouette of the profile a dreadlocked Rasta with a colossal spliff in his mouth, which to me fails wholeheartedly to illustrate the point about driving carefully. As do the billboards advertising Red Stripe, the hooray beer, that line the road at strategic vantage points. The ads show four scantily clad Caribbean babes driving along a sand track lined with coconut palms in a stripped down Landrover, raising cans of Red Stripe in the air. The tagline is Stir it Up. What on earth is going on in South Wales?

To calm myself I switch on Radio 4. I manage to catch the beginning of The Archers (a new outbreak of bovine viral diarrhoea in Ambridge) before I lose the signal completely. I try scanning the radio for another station to listen to but all I can pick up is a station playing Dennis Brown’s Money in My Pocket, which I have to admit sounds pretty good. The tune finishes and an animated DJ starts gibbering away in Welsh, with a marked trace of patois, or perhaps it was patois with a hint of Welsh. I picked up ‘riddim, niceup, herb, collie, rasclaat, irie and jah’. He follows this by cueing in Night Nurse by da cool rula, Gregory Isaacs. ‘Dis Niceup Radio,’ he interrupts just as the vocal comes in.

As an admirer of landmark sculpture I have long been impressed by The Angel of the North and The Wicker Man, but the figure of Ethiopian leader and Rastafarian icon, Haile Sellasie by the side of the A483 puts them to shame. It is truly spectacular; it must be two hundred feet high. I have to remind myself that this is 2015 and we are in South Wales, a place not renowned for embracing new cultural ideas. What I am witnessing suggests a major Jamaican influence in these parts, adding considerable credence to Grover’s claims. Which is good? Isn’t it?

I try to conjure up the picture of a Welsh male voice choir singing Exodus, Movement of Jah People, which is now playing on the radio. Or indeed Shaggy tackling Men of Harlech. The DJ comes back on. ‘An a jus lass nite mi dideh. No one cyaan test Shabba.’ I can pick out the odd word but that is all. I almost hit something coming the other way; Since Abertawe (Swansea) navigation has been a nightmare as the place names and road signs are no longer displayed in English, just Welsh, their legibility was further impaired by being on a background of red, gold and green, with what I imagine to be the conquering lion of Judah alongside the Welsh dragon. Even the speed camera I pass is red, gold and green. The Gower is living up to being the country’s best-kept secret.

Given the circumstances, it is quite easy to get lost and after several miles without a sign of life, I consider that this is the case. To add to the predicament, the Volvo, which has been behaving remarkably well of late, becomes a little hesitant. After a few hundred yards of juddering along the dirt road, it stops completely. I recognise the symptoms. I remembered the same thing happened when I was on my way to pick up Buddy Holly’s yoga mat in Romford. This is not a mechanical problem; the bloody thing is out of fuel. I passed a filling station just after Cardiff but there was a long queue. There hasn’t been another one. Sooner or later, even on a track like the one I am on, a motorist will be along. I will flag him down and get him to give me a lift to the nearest filling station. This is the optimistic view.

It could be however that I am naturally pessimistic, as I haven’t even thought to try the phone. I mean, you don’t get a signal in South Wales, do you? One of the main reasons people come here is to avoid being contacted. But after twenty minutes of free-fall meditation lying on Dusty Springfield’s air bed in the back of the Volvo to calm myself, there is still no sign of the cavalry. I feel the old Nokia is worth a shot. Remarkably, there is a signal.

I go through the identification with the AA centre and everything seems to be going smoothly with Loretta until she asks, ‘what is your position?’

I have to admit that beyond it being somewhere in South Wales, I have absolutely no idea.

I also have difficulty with the question, ‘what was the last place you passed through?’ I explain about the roadsign being in red gold and green.

That will be The Gower. They’re all like that in The Gower. But we’re looking at quite a large area. Can you see any landmarks’, asked Loretta?

There are fields and hedges and a field of tall leafy plants in the distance. I have the feeling this is not the precision Loretta is looking for.

I suggest she might be able to use the global positioning information from my mobile phone.

Her ‘we’re the AA, not International Rescue’ is I feel unnecessarily sarcastic.

With the conversation with Loretta going nowhere, it is fortuitous that Delroy should choose this moment to appear out of nowhere. At around six foot six and built like a Russian war memorial, Delroy cuts an impressive figure. With locks nearly down to his waist and an alligator grin, he offers his hand and introduces himself. I pretend not to notice that his ring finger is missing. I ask instead where his car is. Delroy laughs and adds that he lives nearby, pointing beyond the field of tall leafy plants that I suddenly realise are cannabis plants. This probably explains why he is carrying an AK47.

He does not point the gun at me; it is more a sartorial accessory to his camouflage gear than anything else. He seems to sense that I pose no threat. After all, I do not look like a policeman or a gangster. And , there is a beaten up twenty year old Volvo, with 250,000 miles on the clock, that might have helped him to arrive at his judgement. It is very much a ‘this man is harmless sort of car’. Nevertheless was guarding a twenty acre cannabis plantation I might be less accommodating, but as it is Delroy is quite open. I explain that I have run out of diesel. He laughs out loud again. When he laughs, his whole body contorts as if he is performing a hip hop dance. Once he settles, he says, roughly translated, ‘no problem a friend of his named Tupac has a farm where we can get some red diesel.’ I thank him and we strike up a conversation about The Gower. I explain how easy it was to get lost. Delroy laughs again and tells me he knows why I had come, and that he knows Grover who is selling Bob Marley’s surfboard.

What are the odds against that? I say.

Ain’t no odds mon, is Jah,’ he says. ‘im know you come so I is ‘ere to mek ting ting so.’

He phones Tupac on his mobile and although the phone conversation lapses into a more rootsy patois, making it more difficult to follow, the jist of it seems to be that Tupac is going to bring the diesel over and that we just have to stay put. There is also some discussion about Charlie who might or might not be on his way.

Delroy starts to tell me a little about the board, pretty much confirming what Grover told me earlier. It is a two metre single fin pop out board and it is red, gold and green and has the conquering lion of Judah painted along it with the words Jah Rastafari melting over the tip. Delroy adds a little biography. Bob was originally given the board by a blind Australian aboriginal in recognition of his contribution to the cause of black emancipation, a gift for all that Bob had done to ensure that black people everywhere should no longer have to endure the fiery cross of the oppressor. Bob was deeply honoured and wrote a song in gratitude called Righteous Surfer. It has never been released. No-one knows if Bob ever used the board.

Tupac comes along in a heavily customised Suzuki jeep with a can of diesel. They carry on talking about Charlie and the rocks he is bringing on his rebel boat. They seem concerned about ‘bag a wire’ and ‘the babylon’.

We fill up the Volvo and the fumes make feel nauseous. Delroy and Tupac begin laughing and joking about my technique. Suddenly, there is an air of unease. Tupac’s phone rings or perhaps it is Delroy’s. It is a very short call. It is one of those situations where you feel instinctively that something is wrong.

A fleet of police helicopters is overhead. It is like a military invasion. The expression, shock and awe, for some reason, springs to mind. A mad scramble follows. Armoured vehicles arrive from all directions. Two of the vehicles collide sending a blanket of flame into the air. Shots ring out. Delroy catches one in the chest. Clouds of thick black smoke from the burning vehicles add to the battlefield effect. Delroy and Tupac may or may not get into the Jeep. In the confusion it is hard to tell. Everyone seems to be ignoring me so I dive into the Volvo and drive in the direction I came with my foot firm to the floor.

I keep my eye on the television news for the next few days and buy a selection of the broadsheets and even the South Wales Evening Post but there is no mention of the incident. I am just reducing my dosage of diazepam and getting my life back to normal when I receive an email saying ‘an ebay item you were watching has been relisted: Bob Marley’s Surfboard’. I delete it.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved


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