Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Red, livestock and night noises.

1. Catching sight of Masai men in their distinctive red blankets. They really stand out against the greeny grey mountain scrub. They are cattle people, and the men spend a lot of time wandering with their herds, and perhaps the bright colours help them to spot each other.

2. The campsite on the edge of Ngorongoro crater is home to a wild bull elephant. He just wanders around, grazing the long grass round the edges, drinking out of the rain tanks and occasionally startling campers trying to find the loo in the night. We had to halt supper cooking when he showed too much interest; everyone grabbed a bowl and ran for the truck while Francis clashed a saucepan to scare him off.

3. Lying in our tent listening to the rain. Later on, we heard other things too: we had been told earlier that evening that zebras make a mmmmn noise that ascends in tone; and that lions make a mmmmn noise that descends in tone. It’s funny how mixed up these things can get in your head at 3am. In the morning we found zebra footprints, which was a relief.

Serengeti to Ngorongoro

Monday, January 30, 2006

Water marks, best light and predator.

1. The stripes on a wildebeast's neck -- they look as if someone has poured water on them.

2. Marabou storks are not the most lovely of birds -- think insincere undertaker: 'I am so dreadfully sorry to hear about your loss; do peruse our coffin selection.' And then -- I know this is going to be difficult, but imagine a sort of scrotum hanging round their necks. And they have bald wrinkly heads like vultures, too. But standing on a yellow acacia tree in front of a dark storm sky, they are wonderful.

3. Finding a lioness on the side of the road with her nose in a fresh kill.

Serengeti National Park, Kenya

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Over the fence, best price and warm water.

1. When border crossings are quick and easy.

2. One of the things I fear about travelling is changing money -- the best rates are from entrepreneurs at border crossings, but they are full of mean tricks like slipping a 100 in a bundle of 1,000s. They might miscount, or they might offer you torn notes. Our leaders have a tame man at the border, however, and we got him on board the truck, handed him the group's Kenyan Shillings and he handed back the equivalent in Tanzanian Shillings, no messing.

3. Swimming in Lake Victoria at the end of the day. The water is cloudy but warm and the waves mean there should be no bilharzia. The locals were bathing further down the beach, so we thought it was probably safe. As we swam, a small crowd gathered to watch. Perhaps we swim differently...

Musoma, Tanzania

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Blue, charcoal and sipping.

1. The colour of morning glory. It is the colour of the bits of sky between the stars when the moon is full. It is one of those blues that draws my eye and when I look at it closely I feel as if l am falling. Apart from that I like it because blues can be hard to get with a camera, so this is a time when as a writer I am at an advantage.

2. The clinky sound of charcoal being poured out. You can buy chest-high overfilled sacks from the side of the road. The extra is held in place by nets of knotted grass. We carry it on George’s roof, and there’s a smear of black up the side where our boys haul it up.

3. Watching birds sipping nectar from a tree with bright red flowers against a blue sky.

Kericho Tea Hotel, Kenya

Friday, January 27, 2006

Miss Jones, feathers, no-one gets left behind and family life.

1. A secretary bird secreting around. He has long quills tucked in the back of his head and appears to be wearing pantaloons and a waistcoat. He is hunting for lizards and large insects and his careful steps and sudden stabs make him look like a typist.

2. The little birds here are so brightly coloured. The lilac breasted roller has a pea green back and a chest the colour of a washed blackcurrant stain. They have electric blue starlings, too.

3. Warthogs running along with their tails in the air. I’m guessing this is to help the herd stick together -- when you are trotting through the savannah and the grass is over your ears, flags are needed to keep your family together so that predators don’t pick off the stragglers. Other herders use similar tactics: bush bucks lift their tails revealing startling white and black target markings, elephants wave their tails as they walk.

4. A family of white rhino wallowing in the mud. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

Nakuru, Kenya

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Big hole, George and Francis.

1. Looking out over the Rift Valley. The road to Nakuru follows the escarpment and you can stop at viewpoints to see the vast plain far below. Pushy souvenir sellers crowded round us to point out volcanoes, lakes and a satellite station.

2. Seeing the truck for the first time. He/She (there is some argument over the gender) is called George and will be our base for the next nine and a half weeks. Weighing in at seven tonnes (we don’t talk about the extra half because it makes tolls go up) he will carry us more than 11,000 km, keep our valuables safe, shelter us when it rains and turn into a kitchen three times a day. (Picture of George at Nakuru by Rosey Grant)

3. Discovering that we have a cook travelling with us. Francis will get us food without paying mzungu (this is the general word for white people) prices and he will get up early to start the charcoal burning for toast.

Nairobi to Nakuru, Kenya

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

International rescue, other Claire and karibo.

This is the first of the Africa posts. Also of interest might be Rosey's Pictures and My Pictures.

1. A five-storey building has collapsed in Kenya leaving many people trapped. At the airport we see Rapid UK. They are taking thermal imaging equipment to help with the rescue.

2. Finding another Exodus person in the visa queue.

3. In Africa, everyone wants to stop and chat. You can’t get anything -- directions to the loo, a visa, your passport checked -- without exchanging greetings, giving your nationality and being welcomed to Kenya.

Nairobi, Kenya

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Hygienic, wider and squabble.

1. Finally getting my new shower safely installed and demonstrated.

2. A bunch of anemones opening as they warm up.

3. My parents childishly bickering over a box of chocolates.
Tunbridge Wells, England

Monday, January 23, 2006

Obediance, light and English.

1. Bickering with Fenella and Andy about whether 'obey' should be part of the marriage vows -- I know it's traditional, but why make a promise you can't be sure of keeping? At the same time, the idea of handing all responsibility over to someone else is tempting...

2. Wambly January sunlight warming up the flat.

3. Reading Wind in the Willows last thing at night. I like the first chapter with picnic and the chapter where they go and meet Badger in the Wild Wood best.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Rub, watcher and oh all right.

1. Having your hair washed and getting a little head massage.

2. In the precinct spotting a lady surrepticiously watching people over her McChicken Sandwich.
3. When dinner guests decide that they actually are all right to have one small drink.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Rosy, to do and good taste.

1. Men who blush.

2. Making lists of instructions. It combines my two passions, bossiness and writing.

3. The words 'We were going to have dinner with my brother, but we've cancelled because we want to see you.'

Friday, January 20, 2006

Aniseed, goody-goody and job done.

1. Aniseed flavour cough mixture.

2. My boss describing me as 'conscientious' to a difficult client.

3. I have been taking work home for the last few weeks in order to get a project finished before I go away. It was so satisfying to put the files on my memory stick for the last time.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Potting, shorter nights and horizon.

1. Those really satisfying shots at pool -- the one where you hit the white most carefully and it just tucks your ball into the pocket; or the one where you give it a good wallop and it smacks the ball you were aiming for right where you wanted it; or best of all, the one that you don't expect to do anything, but then, just as your oponent is about to take his turn, a ball hit on the rebound falls into a pocket.

2. Coming out of work and discovering that it's still -- only just -- light.

3. When the sunset is pink and the clouds are dark and raggy.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Better, transport and hunter.

1. Waking up and feeling that I might fancy some breakfast and little bit of work.

2. Seeing James' transit van for the first time -- it's an old mini bus with lots of windows and sitting in the front you are so high up that familiar roads seem quite strange.

3. Watching a kestrel hovering.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Watch under, I really am sick and housekeeping.

1. There isn't much beauty in throwing up, but it's nice when you feel a bit better afterwards.

2. Having no doubt that you are ill and should not go to work.

3. Robert said: 'The Mother told me to do two things this morning but I only pretended to listen and said "yes dear, yes dear." Now I've forgotten what they are. The Rayburn's* gone out -- I think one of them was to keep it in."

* A Rayburn is a status symbol that lives in English kitchens. Its main interests are coal, smoke, ash and sulking. It doesn't cook unless the wind is blowing south south west, although it does heat water so that cold taps steam and the loos all flush at 90 degrees C. It also dries tea towels.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Islanders, little door and glass.

1. A Pattern of Islands by Arthur Grimble. I picked this up because I liked the cheery South Pacific cover. I imagined that this was all I would like about it, assuming that it would be a paternalist ha ha stupid savages who are scared of 'magic' it's a good thing the English are here to sort them out book. It's not -- it's intelligent, reverent and intrigued; the author looks up to his islanders, exploring their manners, their stories and their civilisation. If you are convinced the British Empire was a malevolent force, get hold of this and read what the administrators of the Tuvalu and Kiribati (then called the Gilbert and Ellice Islands) believed they were there to do. Here are Wikipedia articles on Tuvalu and Kiribati and also the British Protectorate of Gilbert and Ellice.

2. We were getting changed after swimming when a tiny little girl escaped while her mother was changing and climbed inside a locker. These lockers slam themselves flat even when unlocked, so no-one would know which one she was in. I panicked briefly -- it would be dark and narrow in there, and how would you know, if you were only two, that the door would push open again... So I opened the locker and enquired, 'You all right in there?', and was welcomed by an enormous smirk, as if I should have known all along.

3. The emptiness of my hall after bottle banking a big bag of glass.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Virtue, wickedness and hot chocolate.

1. I am expecting a visitor, so I am forced to get up early to do my errands, lengthening the day by about two hours.

2. When I was at school our housemistress lectured us on the badness of eating in the street because of the damage it did to the reputation of the school. Twelve years later, there is still something deliciously naughty about buying pakora and lamb burgers from the farmers' market and eating them outside the town hall.

3. Introducing Jenny to a particularly good brand of velvety hot chocolate.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Huge, green and enough.

1. Ed has discovered a webpage that makes giant pictures from photographs. There is now five foot tall head shot of me stuck to our office door.

2. I love parsley sprinkled on white food.

3. At 10pm I decided that the time had come to Just Say 'No' to work and settle down with my knitting.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Compliment, furballs and fish.

1. When people say: 'That's a nice cup of tea.' (or coffee).

2. Roborovski hamsters. They are round about the size of a large thumb -- small enough to squeeze through the bars of a normal hamster cage -- and they zip around so fast that you can't see their legs moving. They prefer living in a little pack and are endlessly entertaining to watch -- tonnes better than television. I saw a cageful in a garden centre pet shop and I want some now. Read more about them at Petwebsite.com.

3. The garden centre also sold fish -- there was one in particular that was blood red with great long fins. It just hung in the aquarium looking back at me. But I still like the tetras best with their luminous blue stripe.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Clouds lift, engineer and ready for Spring.

1. It has been grey and foggy and wet for more than a week. Today the sun comes out during the morning so that all the colours seem brighter on my walk at lunchtime.

2. Diverting water out of muddy puddles by scoring ditches with your bootheel. I like the last puddle in the chain overflowing so the water runs over dry ground.

3. Spotting a cherry tree by the bridleway and thinking that as soon as I come back from Africa I must walk down and see it in blossom.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Cheese, chocolate and bathers.

1. Brie that is exactly the right sort of ripeness. I don't know how you like it, but I like it so the outside is bloomy and the inside not sticky but still has a bit of bounce.

2. Dime bars have changed their name: they are now Daim, so we can be just like people in Europe. It's sad in a way, but they are still crunchy butterscotch covered in particularly nice chocolate, so not that sad.

3. Buying bathers: what a nightmare. There is so much that can go wrong, and I usually end up paying more than I meant for something in turquoise and mauve that I hope will rot and fall apart quickly. Today, however, I found a sale at the leisure centre and bought two. One is iffy (magenta and black and too revealing for Zanzibar), but the other is dark blue with flattering stitching and a neat 1950s belt. Very chic.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Heating, tea and miau.

1. I usually go to bed freezing cold -- at this time of year I just don't seem to be able to get warm. But sometime in the middle of the night I must heat up, because I'm always toasty when I wake up -- so cosy that I don't want to get up. I have to pretend that I simply must listen to the news before breakfast.

2. Having a cup of tea brought to your desk when you are really thirsty.

3. I am on cat feeding duty for a colleague. The cat used to ignore me when I arrived; now he waits in the dark so all you can see is white chest. When I arrive, he says 'Miau' and waits at the top of the stairs so I have to rub his head on my way down to the kitchen.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Footsteps, relief and jollity.

1. While taking a turn around the Grove, I like to think of all the 18th century ladies who walked there too. Betsy Sheridan says in a letter from Tunbridge Wells dated 12-14 June 1785:

"I walk'd out with my Father to a Grove that is one of the most charming circumstances of this Place. It consists of Venerable Oaks, Beach and Elm, all of such a size as to form a compleat shade at noon on the warmest days. It is about a quarter of a mile round and about 2 minutes walk from out House. This delightful walk was bequeathed to the wells many years ago by some benevolent good minded soul whose name I have not been able to learn; It is so settled that a tree can never be cut down, the Corporation are trustees to the Legacy and take excellent care to keep it in order and supply it with a number of benches for those who chuze to rest there, but this sweet spot is I am told quite deserted, no one walks but on the Pantiles."
Betsy Sheridan's Journal: Letters from Sheridan's Sister. Ed. William Le Fanu (OUP, 1986)

2. Walking round a corner and finding that I am out of the biting wind.

3. Passing a hall and seeing that there is a children's party going on inside, with banners and balloons and excitement.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Yah, suspense and smoked salmon.

1. Overhearing two loud couples meeting by chance in a bookshop. They seemed really pleased to see each other.

2. When an edge-of-seat twin swap blog updates after a long break -- The Real Life Twinkie Experiment.

3. Eating smoked salmon sandwiches made with buttered nubbly brown bread.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Pass it on, true stories and chilly.

1. Freecycle -- post anything you have to give away or anything you want on the web and people who want it or have it reply. I got a splendid set of knitting needles this week. Can't wait until I have something to pass on. Click here to see a list of British groups and here to see the Freecycle homepage.

2. A friend telling me that he never thought I was the sort of person who read 'chav rags' like Pick me up, Chat and Take A Break. So I am still safe in my secret fascination with 'I savaged Barbie to save us all' and 'Alcoholic at 12' and 'Caught with 15 men in my shed' and 'Docs told teen: get breeding' and 'He wore my knickers' and 'Just wed and ready to kill' and 'Unnatural relations: Mum fell for her own son'. This last, apparently without a trace of irony, is splashed across the cover above 'EXTRA: 8-page healthy minds pull out'.

3. Carefully eating icecream with a teaspoon.

Friday, January 06, 2006

After insects, hidden treasure and all together.

1. Seeing a treecreeper hunting on the mossy wall outside our office. It had a white belly and a long beak which it uses for winkling insects out of trees. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has more details. I've see one once before -- you know you've got one because of the way it walks up and down vertical surfaces.

2. Finding my first geocache. What happens is people hide a box of goodies and post the GPS co-ordinates on a website. Then anyone can go and find the cache, swap some of the goodies, and log their find on at geocaching.com.

3. Going out to dinner with my parents and my sister. It's strange to go from eating every day with people for the first 18 years of your life to only eating with them on special occasions -- it was The Mother's birthday.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Sunlight, saucy and bovine.

1. The arrival of my solar charger -- Solio claims that it can charge up a mobile phone or an organiser or an Ipod using sunlight. Prop it in a sunny spot, plug in the device and away you go. I'm hoping to put it in the sunny window at work and share it with my colleagues -- although we really do need a bit more sunshine, please, oh Gods and Goddesses of the Skies?

2. The New Covent Garden Soup Company are now doing sauces that really do taste homecooked.

3. Supporting Rachel's Organic in sending cows to Africa by buying a pint of their milk and giving them the barcode.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

First day, new battery and technical hitch.

1. A small boy with white blonde hair sitting on the front steps of a house. His mother was trying to coax a smile out of him for a photograph -- I wonder if it was his first day at school: he was holding, very unwillingly, a little satchel.

2. The secure feeling from replacing the battery in the smoke alarm.

3. My electronic organiser is not working -- it switches itself on, gobbling battery. I suspect a faulty on-off switch, possibly jammed with sand and whatever else its found in my handbag. I envisage unhelpful technical support staff saying: 'You kept it where?' followed by expensive repairs that leave me organiserless and in disarray for weeks. But then I check the help section of the manufacturer's website and discover an entry for: 'It keeps switching itself on in January'. Hurrah for known issues with simple fixes.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Hush, cockleshell boats and fruit.

1. The moment of quiet after the radio is switched off.

2. Elizabethan explorers who set off for Japan -- via the Pacific -- in their little ships. I reckon if they'd had my school atlas which accurately shows the size of the journey, instead of their charts full of mysterious blank spaces, they would never have even tried it.

3. The convenience and sweetness of bananas.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Breakfast, fifth quarter and wraith.

1. Yet again Joe in Vegas' pancake mix has been put to good use: I made the pancakes and Katie arranged them with plenty of healthy fruit. Then we spoilt it all by slopping delicious maple syrup over the top.

2. The strange houses and gardens on Dungeness. Dungeness is a shingle spit sticking out of Romney Marsh with a powerstation on the end. It is the UK's only desert -- although it gets the typical amount of English rain, it drains straight through the shingle. There are lots of funny little houses put up any old where, some made from old railway carriages, others not much more than sheds, and when you find a brick house, it feels like quite an achievement. There are few fences, and many people have met the challenge of gardening on shingle by using beachcombings -- bits of rubbish and drift wood -- to make sculpture gardens. Every other house seems to sell bait or fresh fish or art. Find out more at this website.

3. A painting in the Pilot Inn, called The Wraith. It shows the artist walking across the marsh -- wearing a long green mac with stuffed pockets -- being startled by a heron rising out of a dyke. Really recommend the Pilot, by the way. It's very friendly, does good food and has uber-cool carved driftwood pump handles.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Duties, doggy and dinner.

1. The feeling of smug satisfaction you get from finishing all your chores before going out for the rest of the day.

2. Mia the dog chewing gently on my hand; and the way she pretends to be scared of a remote controlled car, wrinkling her nose at it, barking, feinting at picking it up and then jumping backwards.

3. Cooking with Katie -- we are a pretty good team, because we can fill in the gaps in each other's knowledge, and it's nice to have some company while you peel onions and pop almonds out of their skins. We made pumpkin and lamb, couscous, shallots and prunes, carrots with cumin, rice pudding and chocolate and ginger tart.

Lolly, rabbits and fairy festival.

1. As we walk, the grinding, crunching sound of Bettany working on a chalky double lolly. 2. Midsummer afternoon on the common -- rabbits gr...