My First Flame, c. December 1994

7 May 2017 – I read the Facebook posting linked here, written by Justin Sutton, an old mate of mine from school, about the song Africa by Toto, which brought to the front of my mind the peculiar story of my first flame.

I don’t mean “my first flame” in the romance sense. Good heavens no. I was over 20 when Africa was released as a single, just about to start my third year at Keele.

No, no, no, I mean my first internet flame.

I started using the internet in the second half of 1994, while setting up Z/Yen, primarily because I/we expected it eventually to be useful for business.

But there wasn’t much going on commercially on the net in those days, so, to get into the swing of using the net, I used it quite extensively for my personal interests. Not least, at that time, subscribing to some Usenet groups that I thought would help me with my development of comedy lyrics, including one where people simply discussed the lyrics of songs.

One correspondent on that lyrics group stated that Africa by Toto was their favourite lyric of all time. That posting made me recall the autumn of 1982 and the way that my flatmate, The Great Yorkshire Pudding and I would mimic the line

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti,

which at the time we thought might be the most pretentious lyrical line ever, not least because it barely rhymes with “solitary company” and also barely scans the beat of the song. You sort of need to rush through that line like a broadside balladeer or a calypso singer with too much to say and not enough beats in which to say it.

I made these points about Africa by Toto on that Usenet group and then went about my business for the next 12 or perhaps even 24 hours, as was the dial-up method in those days.

When I returned to the group, I had been comprehensively flamed by the Africa-lover. Their beef was only partly a disagreement with my feelings about the lyric, which was understandable. It was primarily a character assassination suggesting that I was not qualified to discuss that lyric, on the basis that I had failed correctly to transcribe the line in question.

That line actually reads, “as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a lepress above the Serengeti”,

explained the angry song-lover.

In those days, there was no Google or YouTube or Wikipedia or on-line repository of lyrics to turn to. But I couldn’t even work out what a “lepress” might be. Nor why anything other than “Olympus”  might make sense as the simile in question. I even spent a few minutes looking through the dictionary to see if there was a word which had slipped my mind, the feminine form of which might be lepress and make sense in context. The only word I could think of that might take the feminine form “lepress” was “leper”, which didn’t make sense to me in context.

I made these points on the Usenet group and then went about my business for the next 12 or perhaps even 24 hours.

When I returned to the group, I had been even more comprehensively flamed by the Africa-lover.

You know ******* well that a lepress is a female leopard. Don’t be so ******* insulting.

The flamer had also acquired one or two supporters who joined in the flaming, mostly on the grounds that they like the song, a view which I find fair and with which I have some sympathy. I also sort-of like the song; it’s just that one line that has always grated on me and was the source of our 1982 mirth.

But also, by now, I had acquired quite a few supporters, some of whom were supporting the logic of my specific argument about the lyric, while others were simply arguing that I was entitled to my opinion and that the purpose of the group was, after all, to debate lyrics.

I also received a private message with a plea from one of the groups moderators, who told me that she felt that I had been unfairly flamed but asked me to post a conciliatory message to try to calm the group down. She was asking me to do this, because she sensed that I was the more likely of the combatants to acquiesce to her request.

I thought about the moderators conciliation request, while also consulting my English and American dictionaries, to try to work out what a female leopard might actually be called. “A leopardess”, since you asked. I also listened to Africa by Toto again, just to see if I could detect anything other than “Olympus” in that line.

So I did post a conciliatory note.

I apologised to the original poster for my not liking the Africa lyric as much as they did. I apologised to any females or lepers who had been offended by my attempt to define the mystery word “lepress”. I asserted that the female leopard is a leopardess in both English and American usage. I suggested a compromise lyric, with neither Olympus nor lepress, which might just make sense and satisfy everyone’s sensibilities:

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like a left breast above the Serengeti.

I dialed-in to that group a couple more times over the next day or so to watch the flaming discussion peter out. Then I unsubscribed from that group.

Anyway, here is Africa by Toto with the lyrics shown in all their glory and accuracy on the screen.

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