Window On The Past ~ Looking In, Looking Out At Much Wenlock Priory

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Our small town of Much Wenlock has been continuously inhabited for a thousand years. It grew up around the Priory and, until the Dissolution in 1540,  its citizens’ lives were ruled by the Prior who held his own  court. Of course many worked for the Priory directly, while others were farm tenants, the Prior being the preeminent landowner in the area, so fulfilling the role of Lord of the Manor.

In exchange for their tenancies of up to 20 acres, the farmers were expected to do work for the Prior. Sometimes his demands were greatly resented. So much so that in 1163 Wenlock’s peasant farmers rose up, making suit to the King to remove the overbearing prelate. It is recorded that they ‘threw down their ploughshares.’ In return, the Prior excommunicated them, the worst punishment imaginable short of execution. But still the farmers did not back down. They besieged the church and fought off the knights who had been despatched to restore order. The Prior was forced to hold an enquiry, and abide by the decision of a committee whose members were chosen by the farmers themselves – four knights and six monks whose judgement they must have trusted. And so justice was done – people power medieval style.

 

For more about Wenlock Priory see an earlier post HERE

And at Thursday’s Special the theme this week is WINDOWS.

Presents Up At The Allotment

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Yesterday’s post about goings on in and around the allotment and the fact our planet is now totally polluted by Roundup was a drearily disturbing topic. Today the allotment came up with floral fireworks, and a jug full of asters. Presents!

At lunchtime as I was on the plot, watering my peas and beetroot, fellow allotmenteer Siegfried came by. He was pushing a wheelbarrow full of produce – courgettes, runner beans, and a ton of red currants. I said he looked like a mobile vegetable stall. He told me it was destined for tomorrow’s Country Market – the Thursday morning local produce stall under Much Wenlock’s Corn Exchange.

Then he said would I please do him a favour, and go to his plot and pick as many asters as I wanted  He said he had already picked masses for the market, but was afraid the rest would go to waste. He told me not to forget.

A little later I saw him go by my polytunnel. His arms  were filled with sheaves of asters. What a wonderful sight – Siegfried in bloom, and I didn’t have my camera. And so on my way home I stopped for a greedy harvesting in the aster plot. And now I’m passing on Siegfried’s gift. All of which is to say, you meet some nice folk up at the allotment.

False Horizons On The Way To The Allotment: A Not So Bucolic Picture?

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I usually have a camera with me when I go gardening. The field path from our house to the allotment provides many diversions; opportunities to stand and stare. And also there’s often something to snap around my plot. I took this photo just over a week ago. Even then the wheat looked more than ready to harvest. But it was infested with wild oats, hence the feathery ‘horizon’ seen here above the wheat.

Earlier this week,  while I was picking runner beans, I heard the roar of an approaching tractor, and looked up to see the farmer on his mega vehicle, massive spraying rig in action. He was dosing the fields behind and beside the allotment.

Then the breeze got up.

“Roundup,” muttered my allotment neighbour crossly, he who also happens to be an agricultural consultant of many years standing. “Just look how it’s drifting.” It was definitely coming our way. We don’t use weed killer so we had a mutual humph. What else could we do?

Roundup is the most widely sold weed killer in the world. It’s  main active ingredient is glyphosate, but it is also combined with a number of apparently inert adjuvants. These are substances that are added to accelerate,  prolong or enhance the action of the main ingredient.  Adjuvants are also added to vaccines for similar reasons, but that’s another story.

Here’s what Britain’s Soil Association has to say about Montsanto’s glyphosate. If you follow this link, and feel so minded, you can find out more and sign the petition to get it banned. And just to spur you on:

…glyphosate can follow the grain into our food. Tests by the Defra* Committee on Pesticide Residues in Food (PRiF) found that almost two thirds of wholemeal bread sampled contained glyphosate.

* Defra is the UK Government Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

As to actual health risk, the World Health Organisation seems to be at odds with itself as to whether glyphosate is more of danger through external exposure or as residues in our food. Even so, I find it alarming that according to The Guardian, urine samples taken from 48 Members of the European Parliament showed that

all had glyphosate traces in their bodies, with the average concentration being 1.7 micrograms a litre, 17 times above the limit for drinking water.

But whatever its full effects prove to be, I’m with the The Green Party’s MEP for the south-west of England when she says:

With ongoing controversy over the health risks of glyphosate, we can be quite sure it has no place in the human body. We hold concerns for its impact on biodiversity, with evidence of glyphosate having detrimental impacts on the honey bee, monarch butterfly, skylark and earthworm populations, and posing a threat to the quality of our soil.

Molly Scott Cato MEP

Well why would I, or anyone want to eat weed killer?

From My Window ~ Black & White Sunday

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According to the old tithe maps the field behind our house was known as Townsend Meadow, and for obvious reasons: it lies on the north end of town directly below Wenlock Edge. For nearly a year now Shropshire Council has been building a large attenuation pond just over the brow of this hill. The objective is to reduce the effect of flash flooding, holding back storm water that runs off surrounding hills, turns all the roads and brooks into rivers which then converge in the centre of Much Wenlock.

In July 2007, over fifty houses in the town were badly flooded. Ours was fortunate not to be one of them; although our house is built into the foot of this hill, the main burden of run off flows around rather than through our property.

The fence in this photo was the first thing to go up before work on the pond began. The tree that appears to be in the corner is a piece of ‘borrowed  landscape’ and is actually some distance away in the field hedgerow. And the rooks were just passing.

Before the fence went  up I did not particularly notice the tree, but now I like the way this visual convergence gives an accent to what before was a rather featureless wheat field.

It was even more exciting when the big digger moved in.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

Black & White Sunday  This week Paula’s challenge is STRUCTURE

In Book Heaven At Scarthin Books

And no, the place isn’t haunted by the ghosts of bibliophiles past, at least I didn’t meet any while I was there. That’s me caught accidentally in the mirror, and with a daftly blissful look that reminds me of the Bisto Kid adverts wherein lads do much paradisal sniffing of delicious aromas. And of course books have their own parfum – from  well used and hypnotically musty to freshly pressed. So why would I not be looking happy in Scarthin Books? This well known Derbyshire emporium has 100,000 thousand volumes, old and new – spread over three floors (often literally) and stacked up to the rafters in 13 rooms.

The bookshop was once voted the 6th best in the world and, in  the forty odd years since it began, it has become a landmark and institution in the small Peak District village of Cromford. And if that name rings a bell, then it is the place where in 1771 Richard Arkwright built his cotton mill, thereby bringing us the factory system and all that went (still comes) with it. But please overlook that bit of unsavoury orientation. Overbearing capitalism is not the atmosphere one finds in the bookshop. Far from it. You can tell that, can’t you – even before you set foot inside.

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In fact, once in there, it’s as if time has stopped, despite the ticking of the clock. There is nothing you need do; no schedule to keep; no quota to fill or target to reach. It’s more like stepping into Looking Glass Land then.

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Do I know this man?

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Books, books and more books on every conceivable topic. You could spend days and years here. And the good thing is there’s no need to leave because they feed you too – delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes, produced from behind a bookshelf in what passes for a kitchen.

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And if the bookish experience becomes too overwhelming, you can take the air with the sunflowers up in the roof garden. What an utterly sound establishment.

And in case you are wondering which books tempted me, I bought Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer On Writing, which I am yet to read, but made its presence felt from a nearby bookshelf while I was eating the delicious carrot soup, and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which so completely entranced me that, once home, I set about tracking down everything Jean Rhys had written, and so mislaid the Atwood. Fortunately, writing this post has reminded me to locate both books, so I can re-read one and make a start on the other.

The places then – both physical and metaphorical – where words take us, including the disgracefully dusty bookcase under the bedroom window. So thank you Ailsa for this week’s prompt at Where’s My Backpack. Please follow the link below to see her ‘words’ challenge photos.

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This post is for my good friend Kate who is also a devotee of Scarthin Books.

Now please watch the video which will tell you more about the bookshop, how it began and the people who love it.

Where’s My Backpack: WORDS

Five Minutes In The Polytunnel ~ Regular Random

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As ever, I have probably overdone things in the polytunnel, been too liberal with the seaweed extract. On the other hand the half dozen Tuscan kale plants have been producing succulent leaves since the winter. Almost undamaged too. I’m wondering how long they will keep going. Forever? I’m also pleased to find ladybirds in there, although the one featured below seems to have missed the aphid on the aubergine leaf. Maybe it’s trying to lull it into a sense of false security.IMG_5272

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Regular Random Please visit Desley Jane for more Five Minute Photo Shoots

Photos From The Old Africa Album

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After I had posted the Kenya diary excerpt yesterday (see previous post), I found I could do passable scans from one of our old albums. So here are the photos of ‘A Day At The Nairobi Races’  – two 6WordSaturday titles for one then.

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Members of the Police Anti-Stock Theft Unit from Kenya’s Northern District – completing the race that never was.

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The real racing begins which reminds of an even more historical account of the Nairobi races.

In 1931 Evelyn Waugh arrived in Kenya during Race Week which was by then a colonial institution. I gather it took place between Christmas and New Year when the smart-set settlers left their upcountry farms and headed for town. Every night was party night at the Muthaiga Club. Here are some excerpts from Waugh’s day out at the races from Remote People:

I found myself involved in a luncheon party. We went on together to the Races. Someone gave me a cardboard disc to wear in my button-hole; someone else, called Raymond, introduced me to a bookie and told me which horses to back. None of them won…

Someone took me to a marquee where we drank champagne. When I wanted to pay for a round the barman gave me a little piece of paper to sign and a cigar.

We went back to Muthaiga and drank champagne out of a silver cup which someone had won.

Someone said, ‘You mustn’t think Kenya is always like this.’

And some sixty years on to 1994 when these photos were taken…

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The Steward’s Enclosure. The colours of the day were red and white, and the lady in the red and white hat won ‘best outfit’.

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The Chief Steward

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But when it comes to the old colonial residue, one key thing has  obviously changed. In 1963 Kenya won independence from Britain. But here’s the catch. As colonial private interest dwindled, so came the invasion of the multi-nationals. The American corporation Del Monte was one of the first. They took over Kenya Canners and the Thika pineapple plant. Another big investor was the Anglo-African giant Lonrho, here sponsoring the races.  This entity started out in 1909 as the London and Rhodesian Mining Company. During the ‘60s Lonrho bought up British firms throughout Kenya including the Standard newspaper, farms, distributors, wattle estates, and a large vehicle importer*. During the ‘90s Lonrho also owned some of the country’s most prestigious tourist hotels including The Ark, the Norfolk Hotel and the Mount Kenya Safari Club. There’s a postscript to this later.

Now back to the album:

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The Kenya Air Force Band waiting for their next stint between the races

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The main grandstand

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And for the children – donkey cart rides, face painting and Mr. Magic

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Postscript: from the Standard newspaper 15 May 2005

John Kamau reports:

Nairobi — The once politically-connected Lonrho Plc has finally called it a day in Kenya after selling its last five prime properties to Saudi-billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

In what may be one of the largest take-overs in Kenya in recent history, Kingdom Hotel Investments, owned by Alwaleed, on Wednesday took over the historic Norfolk Hotel, Mount Kenya Safari Club, Aberdare Country Club, The Ark and Mara Safari Club. Alwaleed also owns the famous London Savoy.

All of which prompts me to ask who actually does own Kenya these days?

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Six Word Saturday  Please pop over to Debbie’s at Travel With Intent. She has posted some fabulous shots of the Forth Bridge – another example of how historical constructs can long endure, some far more useful than others.

 

*Charles Hornsby 2013 Kenya: A History Since Independence

The Way We Were ~ More From The Kenya Diary

Greater love hath no man than he who spent hours and days, and more hours and days transcribing this writer’s Kenya journal. Prior to transcription, and due to various computer glitches, it existed only on reams of faded, flimsy print-out paper. It was just about scannable, which was tiresome enough to complete, but the end result then required hours of copy editing. So thank you Graham.

And for those who don’t know the background to this, from January 1992 to January 2000, Graham aka the Farrell Team Leader, was working out in Africa on various British aid agricultural projects. The first year we were largely itinerant, travelling up and down the Mombasa highway between Nairobi, Kiboko, Taita and Mombasa.

Graham was working on a project to control Larger Grain Borer, a voracious grain-decimating beetle introduced to Africa in a consignment of US food aid. The actual home of this pest is Central America, and Graham had spent some time studying its behaviour in Mexico. He was then employed on a short-term consultancy project by the Natural Resources Institute in Kent, and thence despatched to Kenya.

His main base was the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Nairobi, but there was also a field station a hundred miles south at Kiboko, where the Kenyan project staff worked. When Graham had to make a visit, we stayed at Hunter’s Lodge, once the home of big white hunter, John Hunter, and later (in the ‘60s) developed into a small tourist hotel. The place had its heyday around this time, or until the horrendous dirt road to Mombasa was tarred, and coast- or city-bound travellers no longer broke their journeys at Hunter’s Lodge.

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In our day it was unusual to find any other overnight guests there, although there were plenty of staff, the waiters always smartly turned out in black trousers, white shirts and red bow ties, and ever in attendance in case anyone turned up.

Much of 1993 was then spent in Lusaka, Zambia. Graham was attached to the European Union Delegation, contracted there to organise the distribution of food aid during a period of prolonged drought. But at the end of that year we returned to Nairobi, in the first instance, to close down the Larger Grain Borer project at Kiboko, but later to run a crop protection project which involved British and Kenyan scientists working in partnership with smallholder farmers to overcome various crop and livestock problems. And here we stayed until the start of 2000 when the British Government closed the project down.

While we lived in Nairobi we were housed in a British High Commission house, which also came with Sam, our house steward. He lived with his family in a cottage at the bottom of the garden, but as we never had enough for him to do, he only worked mornings. His actual home was in Western Kenya where he owned three very small smallholdings in different places. Then there was Patrick, our day guard, also provided by the BHC. He never had much guarding to do either, so Graham paid him to look after the garden which he did with impeccable diligence. His home was also in Western Kenya, where his wife and children lived on his own smallholding. Sam told me Patrick had deployed his earnings from guarding and gardening on the building of a good stone house for his parents and was currently building one for himself. He was also paying for his children’s education. While he was working in Nairobi, which was 11 months of the year, he rented a room in one of Nairobi’s slums.

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The following extract gives a few glimpses of expatriate Nairobi life and those cultural events that owe more than a little to the country’s British colonial past.

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29 August 1994

Months have passed and no journal entries. In June we went home to England for three weeks. It was cold and windy and time was gobbled up visiting family and storming the shops. Then came the weeks of adjusting again to Nairobi living. It seemed very strange that, after all our days and miles of travelling, the only news Sam had when we got back was that the avocado tree had finished fruiting. Otherwise, everything was as we had left it.

And to root myself in once more, I took to gardening. Another effort to get the better of the over-shaded vegetable plot; flower beds cleared for tomatoes and herbs; a new plot excavated under my office window; seeds sown and the ever vigilant Patrick following up with the watering can at dawn and at dusk.

In July we went to the Ngong Racecourse for the Concourse d’ Elegance,  one of Nairobi’s annual multicultural events. It is a specialist car rally wherein owners show off their vintage vehicles including aged safari trucks (one of which had ‘starred ‘in  Out of Africa), wartime jeeps, a venerable Mini, period Peugeots, Alfa Romeos, Mercedes, Volvos and a red E-type Jaguar.

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Car owners from the Asian community were dressed up as maharajahs and Arabian Nights grand viziers, the Europeans in more peculiar costumes – a woman dressed as a large black spider, one chap in full Viking gear. There was an overall atmosphere of the English Village Fete. The Kenya Society for the Protection of Animals laid on donkey cart rides around the race course grounds; Mr Magic was doing tricks for the children; the East African Ladies group had a charity cake stall. There were welly-wanging contests, face painting, remote control model car races, hotdog stands and Lyons ice-cream carts.

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The racecourse itself is a picturesque colonial relic. Stands of gum trees, the tiered main grandstand creeper-covered and housing a shady restaurant, and nearby the race steward’s offices, the Jockey Club members’ precincts, the collecting ring sheltered by mature trees.

We thought we’d like to see what the place was like on race day, so a week  or so later we turned up for the Lonrho races. Kenyans take their racing seriously and the whole ground was humming with activity. The ‘old colonial’ set were very high profile, chaps in their grey plaid racing suits, members’ tickets dangling from lapels, their ‘good ladies’ in Ascot frocks and hats to match. In fact the woman who won the best outfit contest truly looked as if she was anticipating entry to the Royal Enclosure. At such times you can only blink: the British abroad – what are they thinking?

The first race was something of a novelty event being a camel race. The beasts and riders came from the anti-stock-theft police patrol in the remote north. There were four contestants, the riders in  bright racing colours. But the camels weren’t too lively and it took some time to cajole them to the starting line. And even after the gong  had been rung, it was hard to tell if the race had started. Every spectator head was craned, gazing across the course for signs of activity. Time passed. It was thus the biggest excitement when the first camel hove into view. He finally jogged  fast enough to reach the finish line, his rider waving not only arms but also legs to celebrate their mutual victory. It was hard to imagine that these camels ever caught up with any cattle-thieving bandits.

Then the serious racing began, most of the horses from wazungu stud farms up in the Rift Valley, and their riders so slender-limbed and tiny, I wondered if  the race horse owners employed their jockeys from the Okiek community,  the last of Kenya’s original indigenous inhabitants of slight-statured hunters. We sat in the grandstand for a while, watched the Kenyan Air Force band marching on the course between races, listened to the commentator who sounded to be the very same man who serves at every English agricultural show and sporting event wherever it is on the globe, looked at the Kenyan mamas in their elaborate kitenge costumes, had our ears blasted as two Air Force buglers dashed up into the grandstand to trumpet the start of the race,  admired the fine looking Kenyan rider, whose task it is to lead the mounted jockeys to the starting gate,  he sporting his  English hunting pink jacket and tight white breeches – yet another of Nairobi’s cross-cultural phenomena that challenge perceptions at every turn. It was all so absorbing that we didn’t even get round to placing any bets.

Our next trip to the racecourse was in early August, to another extraordinary multicultural event. This time to the Royal Ballet performing their specially created programme in aid of Kenyan conservation, Dances for Elephants. The week’s performances were aimed at raising funds for various Kenyan wildlife projects – rhino surveillance, Grevy’s zebra surveys, elephant monitoring, conservation education in Maasailand. It was the brainchild Royal Ballet Mistress, Rosalind Eyre and Oria Douglas-Hamilton, wife of Dr Ian Douglas-Hamilton, Kenya’s resident elephant expert.

Performances were laid on at several venues: at the racecourse, at the Lake Naivasha home of the Douglas-Hamiltons (complete with picnic hampers), at the Windsor Country Club and at the residence of the British High Commissioner, Sir Kieran Prendergast. Local businesses sponsored tickets so cohorts of Nairobi school children could go to the racecourse matinee and have their first ballet experience.  A congratulatory telegram also arrived from HRH The Prince of Wales, wherein he praised the sixteen dancers’ efforts and generosity in giving up their time. He also said he wished he could be with us, which we could not fail to doubt as we had recently read newspaper reports of another “Diana” scandal looming back in the UK.

We arrived in the racecourse at sundown, and again found the place was thronging.  It was a clear evening and I wondered if anyone had warned the dancers how chilly Nairobi was in August.

The audience was well catered for though. There was a tent serving hot drinks and hotdogs as well as a bar. We had come prepared with our own flask of cocoa, cushions and wraps. The grandstand was mostly filled with members of the diplomatic community and Kenyan professionals from the companies that had sponsored the event, but we could sit where we wanted among the concrete benches of the grandstand. The Jockey Club members’ padded seats comprised “The Circle” for which people had paid 3,000 shillings a ticket instead of our 700  bob. We settled down on Vitafoam sponge mats on the front row.

The stage was ingenious – two flatbed trucks parked tail to tail. Cranes rearing up behind each cab supported the roof and stage light tracking. Either side were the enormous speakers of the sound system that had been donated to the cause by Lufthansa. The racecourse and its stands of gum trees lay to their back and, as the sun disappeared behind them, black kites wheeled overhead,  mewing and on the lookout for abandoned hotdogs.

At dusk the dancing began – excerpts from the whimsical ballet ‘Still Life at the Penguin Cafe’, opening with the zebra dance, “White Mischief”. It could not have been more surreal, of itself and also because there was the stage backdrop of the African plains with the real African sky behind it, and real African ‘sound effects’  of cricket and frog call.

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Here is a version of what we saw out on the Ngong Racecourse on a chilly Kenyan night (best viewed full screen):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jh0TPvus7r4