Black Mambas

By Roger Western, G3SXW

Our Voodoo group is famous for its banter, wind-ups and leg-pulling. It is incessant, always creating much merriment. But there is one story that tops them all: the ‘Black Mambas’.

Picture the scene: five American operators are flying across the Atlantic to join yet another Voodoo operation. One of them is a Rookie – in fact it was his first ever visit to Africa – whereas the other four were old hands. The Rookie totally innocently and appropriately asks: “Do we see any wild-life on this big bus journey?”. One of the Old-Hands answers: “Not really, just a few skinny cows and mangy dogs”. A very fair and accurate explanation of what might be expected on this bus-journey. There are no tigers, rhinos or leopards in West Africa.

After a few seconds silence one of the Old-Hands slyly adds: “Oh, but you might come across the odd Black Mamba”. Rookie’s head twists around so violently that it was feared it would come right off (cf. “Omen”, the movie!). “Not to worry”, adds the Old-Hand, “because you always hear them coming. They make a very distinctive noise: sss sss, pause, sss sss”. Rookie’s mind was not much set at rest by this revelation but conversation turned to other matters, such as propagation from West Africa, installing beams and so forth.

Now the story moves on. We have all embarked on a very long bus-journey. After a few hours we ask the bus-driver to pull over for a ‘comfort-break’. All eight of us dismount and line up beside the road, with our you-know-what dangling out, taking a pi55. Suddenly the sly one says: “SSS SSS – SSS SSS”. Our Rookie just about fell over himself running away, scrambling on to the bus, still trying to zip up his fly. Meanwhile the Old-Hands all fell about laughing. You know the saying: “I laughed so hard I nearly pi55ed myself” – well, this time it was for real.

The sequel to the story is almost as hilarious. Once back on the road we collectively, just with knowing looks, agreed that we had better tune in the Rookie to our wind-up and reveal the truth. One of the team, sitting just behind the Rookie said: “SSS SSS” – Rookie’s head again jerked around in abject panic. The rest of the Old-Hands fell about laughing and Rookie finally woke up to the fact that he had been had. He didn’t much like it but had no choice but to accept the ruse.

But wait, there’s an even funnier sequel, if your sides are not already splitting enough. Y’see, throughout West Africa the signal to draw attention, for example of a waiter, is “SSS SSS”. A bit like calling: “Garçon” in a French restaurant. We all knew this but the Rookie didn’t. Of course, over the next boring hour or two on the bus we kept saying: “SSS SSS”, until we eventually tired of it. Rookie finally learned to ignore this leg-pulling and admit defeat. However, the bus-driver did not understand what was going on in the back. Each time that someone said: “SSS SSS” his head jerked around. Finally, I made my way forward and, while he was still negotiating the many pot-holes, I explained the joke to him. He laughed fit to burst and nearly drove the bus off the road!

What a riot! Such moments live in the memory and are almost as important as winning all those CQWW plaques! Sorry, Rookie – it was a baptism of fire but thank you for taking it in good grace! You know who you are!