Bob Marley’s Surfboard by Chris Green
I don’t have Bob Marley down as a surfer. 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 the tough Trenchtown environment 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 I see Bob Marley’s Surfboard advertised on eBay.
Collecting celebrity memorabilia is not without risk. Sometimes it takes a trained eye to confirm an item is genuine, and there is an element of trust involved. For instance, had I not come across Roy Orbison’s prescription Wayfarers on a bona fide collectors’ site, I would have avoided them. 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 featured much in 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 checking out at the age of twenty-two? But a little research showed that Buddy met beat writer Jack Kerouac on more than one occasion and picked up a little Eastern philosophy from him. Buddy may well have written Peggy Sue or It Doesn’t Matter Any More on this very mat, out of his brains on drugs and mysticism.
An exchange of messages with the surfboard advertiser reveals that he lives on the Welsh coast in the small village of Rhossili. This part of the coast is popular amongst surfers and Bredda maintains quite simply that he acquired the item from a fellow surfer who is also called Bredda. Bredda is a common name in the Gower, he assures me, as common as Denzil or Delroy.
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 he know it is Bob Marley’s surfboard?’ seems to be the obvious question.
While he is a little light on verifiable facts, he informs me that surfing is popular amongst reggae artists. Maxi Priest, Ziggy Marley, and U Roy are all frequent visitors to the Gower. And Gregory Isaacs was there just last week on the beach with one or two sistas. If I am interested, he also has a pair of Oakley sunglasses that once belonged to Bunny Wailer and a wetsuit belonging to Althea of Althea and Donna.
I take a look at his other eBay items. There are no bids on either of the items he mentioned, or Burning Spear’s barbecue, or Max Romeo’s snorkel. But with the houseboat absolutely chocca, I feel I have to concentrate my attentions on memorabilia of A Listers.
Alarmingly, the bidding on Bob Marley’s surfboard has gone up to a thousand. And still two days to go. I need to get along to Rhossili to take a look at it 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 feel a little concerned that the surfers in the photos are all white. But perhaps Jamaican surfers are camera shy. They might prefer the more private beaches where they can light up their spliffs and chalices. The sites all stress that The Gower is the country’s best kept secret.
Either way, it doesn’t matter. I had a bit of a windfall selling Marc Bolan’s tennis racket. It was time to sell. Marc’s star was fading. The successful collector has to take advantage of these fluctuations over time. 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 as me. 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 Stevenage with someone who directs television commercials. All water under the bridge.
Looking at the map, I see Rhossili is around a hundred and twenty miles, and the Volvo needs a good run. It probably needs a service, but this can wait until I get back. I pack some clothes, 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 is good. I stop off at the pharmacy to pick up my tablets and head towards the motorway..
I drive up the M5 to the M49, a route I took many years ago, when I first started collecting. On that occasion, I bought Eddie Cochran’s wristwatch from an auction in Nailsea. My intention had been to buy Jimi Hendrix’s kite, but I was outbid. This was around the time that Stacey moved out, 1990, I think. Stacey said I was obsessed with dead pop stars and there was so much junk around the flat that there was no room for her and the children. I argued 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 hatstand I had just bought, was not dead. Nor were Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich. And where would we be without their personalised tea towels? I had got them for £6.50 including postage.
I miss the children, 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 in the school holidays.
I become distracted by the Glamorgan welcomes Careful Drivers road sign. The sign has its equivalent in Welsh and displays a silhouette profile of a dreadlocked Rasta with what looks like a colossal spliff in his mouth, which fails wholeheartedly to illustrate the point about driving carefully. As do the billboards advertising Red Stripe, the Hooray Beer that line the road. 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 ground myself, I switch on Radio 4. I catch the beginning of The Archers Nigel is worried about the Millennium Bug, and there is a fresh outbreak of foot and mouth in Ambridge before I lose it completely. I try scanning for another station and pick up one playing Dennis Brown’s Money in My Pocket, which sounds pretty good. The tune finishes and an animated DJ comes in. Welsh, with a hint of patois, or is it patois with a hint of Welsh? I pick 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 whoops just before the vocal comes in.
I am a big fan of landmark sculpture and have been awed by the Wicker Man and lately the Angel of the North. But the figure of Rastafarian icon, Haile Sellasie, by the side of the A483 puts them to shame. It is spectacular; it must be two hundred feet high. I remind myself that this is South Wales, a place not renowned for cultural change. It looks like Jamaica has made major inroads into these parts lately, just like Bredda said. Idly, I try to picture a Welsh male voice choir singing Exodus, Movement of Jah People, which is now playing on the radio. Or Peter Tosh tackling Men of Harlech. The DJ comes back on. I can pick out the odd word but the odd word only. In trying to concentrate, I almost shunt the Polo in front.
Since Abertawe, navigation has been a nightmare, as the place names and road signs are no longer only displayed in Welsh. Their legibility is 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. It appears to be a local thing. Quite likely the country’s best-kept secret.
Given the circumstances, it is quite easy to get lost and it is not long before I do. 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 gives up. I recognise the symptoms. The same thing happened when I was on my way to pick up Buddy Holly’s yoga mat in Swindon. It is not a mechanical problem; the 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.
I go through the identification with the AA customer service and everything seems to be going smoothly with Loretta until she asks me where I am. Beyond it being somewhere in South Wales, I have no idea where this is. I explain about the road signs being in red gold and green with the conquering lion of Judah on.
‘They’re all like that in The Gower. But we are looking at quite a large area. Any landmarks?’
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. After all, this is 1999.
Her we’re the AA, not International Rescue is unnecessarily sarcastic.
With the conversation with Loretta going nowhere, it is fortunate that Delroy should choose this moment to appear. 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 Delroy is carrying an AK47. And why I’m out of my box. I’ve been breathing it in.
He does not point the gun at me. It is more of a sartorial accessory to his camouflage gear than lethal weapon. He can sense that I pose no threat. I do not look like a babylon or a gangster. My beaten up twenty-year-old Volvo will have helped him to his judgement. It is a this man is harmless sort of car. Nevertheless, if I were guarding a twenty acre cannabis plantation, I might be less accommodating. 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 Denzil 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 have come. He knows Bredda.
‘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 Denzil on his mobile and although the phone conversation lapses into a rootsy patois, making it tricky to follow, the jist of it seems to be that Denzil is going to bring the diesel over and we just have to stay put. There is also a discussion about Charlie, who might or might not be on his way.
Delroy starts to tell me about the board, pretty much confirming what Bredda 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 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.
Denzil comes along in a heavily customised Suzuki jeep with a can of diesel. Charlie comes into the conversation again and the rocks he is bringing on his rebel boat. They seem concerned about bag a wire and Babylon.
We fill up the Volvo. The fumes make me feel nauseous. Delroy and Denzil begin laughing and joking about my technique. Denzil’s phone rings or perhaps it is Delroy’s. It is a very short call. The atmosphere changes. There is an air of unease. Something is wrong.
Suddenly police helicopters are swooping down. Orders are coming over a loud hailer. Armoured vehicles arrive from all directions. A mad scramble follows. It is like a war zone. Shots ring out. Delroy catches one in the chest. Two vehicles collide sending a blanket of flame into the air. Clouds of thick black smoke from the burning vehicles add to the battlefield effect. People are rushing everywhere. Delroy and Denzil may or may not get into the Jeep. In the confusion, it is hard to tell what is going on. Everyone seems to be ignoring me, so I decide to make myself scarce. I dive into the Volvo and head in the direction I came with my foot firmly to the floor. To my great relief, no one follows.
I keep my eye on the television news for the next few days and buy a selection of broadsheets and even the South Wales Evening Post, but strangely, there is no mention of the incident anywhere. I begin to wonder if perhaps in my excitement, I may have lost my sense of perspective a little and romanticised my account of the skirmish. Unfamiliar situations can have a disorientating effect, and there was definitely a lot going on that day.
I am reducing the dosage of all the stuff that Dr Escher had me on prior to the trip to the Gower and getting my life back to some kind of normality, when I receive an email saying:
An eBay item you were watching has been relisted: Bob Marley’s Surfboard
I delete it.
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