No way back from Africa: the road to Hunter’s Lodge


The road from the Range Station to Kiboko


I can pretty much bank on it. Once you have been in Africa you will never be the same. Nowhere else will you feel so alive, or so in love, or so entranced or indeed, afraid. In the physical sense, your blood and guts may well bear traces of the diseases and parasites you encounter there for years to come. Certainly the psyche will be forever afflicted by acute withdrawal symptoms, the loss of sensation, the no-longer-state of being always in the present – the only way to live back there.

In elemental ways too, standing, for instance, in East Africa’s Rift Valley, you could well find yourself confronting your genetic heritage for the very first time: the dazzling revelation that this is the land where your ancestors stood up on their apes’ hind legs and marched onwards to the age of technological development that we like to call civilization. It is the moment that you understand that you and this landmass are intimately connected through every pore, cell and bone.

And the reason I can say this, daring such unbridled presumption, is because it happened to me, and to G, and to all who know us and visited us there. Africa gets under your skin and, to quote a dear old friend “up your nose and into your soul.”


Kilimanjaro caught from the Mombasa highway just south of Kiboko


For me the journey into Africa began, with auspicious timing, on the 14th February 1992. This was the day I ran away – to Kenya to be precise, leaving home, possessions, accountant spouse and several labradors in order to travel with a roving entomologist who had no home, no possessions – neither in Africa nor in England. He had recently been in Mexico researching the habits of the Larger Grain Borer (LGB), a small maize-eating beetle that ravages stored crops. Before this he had worked for two years in Tabora, Tanzania, as a volunteer Agricultural Extension worker, also advising farmers about LGB. (See earlier post On Kenya’s Farms)

In the 1980s this pest had arrived  in Africa (where it has no known natural predators), introduced on consignments of food aid from the Americas. In 1992, then, G was on a new LGB mission: to monitor the beetle’s spread from Mombasa on the Indian Ocean coast to Nairobi in the Kenya’s central highlands. For the next nine months we would lead a nomadic life, travelling up and down the Mombasa highway, which back then was little more than a ribbon of ragged tarmac running through the bush.

The road was fraught with dangers – from gargantuan potholes to car-jackers lurking in the thorn scrub. There were also successions of stranded trucks left where you least expected them, and the possibility of some belligerent buffalo insisting on a standoff in the middle of the highway; and then there were policemen flagging us down for lifts, or to give us speeding tickets when we had not been speeding.


Hunter’s Lodge, Kiboko


During these nine months we stayed in roadside hotels, safari lodges, beach cottages, a Danish development workers’ guesthouse, and, best of all, at Hunter’s Lodge where we were usually to be found for three or four days each week. This one-time home and small hotel was begun by Great White Hunter, John Hunter, at a small place called Kiboko, some hundred miles south of Nairobi. The place had once been a regular resort for expatriates taking a weekend break from the capital, or a convenient overnight stop en route for Mombasa beach. This was in the days when the road was still an un-metalled cart track, and it took all day to get there (needless to say, covered head to toe in red plains’ dust). The coast was a further 200 mile-drive, including the long stretch of desolate Taru thorn scrub south of Voi.

Kiboko, then, was in every way an oasis. John Hunter had long had his eye on the location before he moved there in his retirement in 1958. He had arrived in British East Africa in 1908 in the wake of the first European settlers, and made a career of clearing unwanted game: first lions from the Uganda railway that ran nearby and later, on behalf of the colonial game department, elephant from settler farms, and marauding hyena from the African native reserves.

He also ran private safaris for counts and maharajas, and therefore rubbed shoulders with the likes of Karen Blixen’s white hunter husband, Bror Blixen, and her lover, Denys Finch Hatton (Out of Africa). In his time, Hunter was personally responsible for despatching over 1,400 elephants, and nearly as many rhinoceros. Local myth had it that Hunter gave up repairing the hotel sign which a vengeful rhino was intent on flattening. Besides, in those days, everyone who was anyone knew where Hunter’s Lodge was.

Graham and peacock 1992

Afternoon tea with the sugar-stealing peacock


The reason Hunter chose Kiboko to settle was because it had fresh water: a volcanic spring, and the only one for miles around. In the old days he had often watched elephant coming there at sundown to drink. He, however, set about damming the stream to make a small lake, this surrounded by a grove of graceful fever trees and wild figs. Given the general aridity of the surrounding bush country, it truly is a beautiful place, a resort not only for human travellers, but for some three hundred species of bird. When we were there, there was also talk that a leopard haunted the upper reaches of the pool, but we never saw it: only baboons and vervet monkeys, a bushbaby and a monitor lizard.

The bridge

The bridge to the vegetable shamba


And the reason that we often stayed there was because the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute had a small research station and laboratory just behind the lodge. On starting his job, Graham was gravely entrusted with a key to the back garden gate, so that at 7.30 am he could walk to work, and then walk back again for lunch at noon. The lab employed a dozen technicians, all working on the LGB project.


Graham's team at Kiboko Lab - the last day

Kiboko lab and staff


In 1992 Hunter’s Lodge rarely had many overnight guests. Sometimes G’s boss would be stay; sometimes a travelling salesman; sometimes an aid worker or two. Once, an Intermediate Technology N.G.O held a two-day seminar there. Once, a large group of Nairobi Asians came for a weekend party. The main trade, however, comprised passing travellers who dropped in throughout the day for snacks and drinks. These were served by smart bow-tied waiters on the bar terrace where you would be stalked by a bedraggled peacock, which sorely depressed since its mate had been swallowed by a python, sought pleasure in raiding the sugar bowl whenever it had the chance. It was a sad old bird.

The menu was limited: cheese sandwiches, steak and chips and omelettes. But the cook did prepare an amazing fresh lemon juice made from the lodge garden’s own lemons. It was sour enough to curl your teeth, but extraordinarily sweet too. We also soon took to carrying a plastic tea strainer around with us – to sieve the skin out of the milk, both from the breakfast wheatie flakes, and before we poured it into our tea.

The milk was brought daily by Maasai women and their donkies, and boiled within an inch of its life. Even so, it still tasted of the ash-scrubbed gourds that it was delivered in. This milk, coupled with the sulphurous water from the spring, made afternoon tea a daily strange experience. Only the lack of other things to do when G came home from work at five o’clock made us persist with it. Going for tea on the terrace was, after all, an outing – a different experience from the lunch and supper outing to exactly the same spot, or to the breakfast outing which was to the lodge dining room with its strange ogival doorways.


Looking toward the Lodge dining room


The best pursuit of the day, so long as there had been a calor gas delivery, was at sundown  to resort to the shower in our room. The shower fittings went under the manufacturer’s name of Steamy Steamy. After a dusty drive up or down the Mombasa highway, a good Steamy Steamy was the only thing we could think of.

Then by seven when it was quite dark, and we were duly steamed and dressed, the next treat would be to sit on our veranda and wait for the firefly display up and down the garden lake. This was followed by a trip to the bar and a couple of Tusker beers. If John, the young Maasai barman, was on duty, then we were in for some good conversation. He had opinions on everything. The local Akamba waiters would stand about and gaze at him in awe, whether he was talking to us or to them. He told us he owned 150 cattle, and had two wives. He had not wanted to marry a second time, he explained, but his parents had urged him because his mother had kidney disease and needed more household help. He had accepted the situation philosophically.

Once, John offered to take me on the back of his bicycle into the bush to his family’s ‘enkang and to see a female circumcision ceremony. I wished I’d had the guts to accept. He told me his home was only two hours away, as if I would manage the ride over bush tracks quite easily, me who had never ever balanced myself on a bicycle parcel rack.


Caught red-handed, a vervet raider eating our bananas


While G was at work, I wrote letters and read. But mostly I watched. I soon realized that the Lodge was run, not for guests, but for the benefit of its staff. Their daily routine of cleaning and tending went on whether or not there were any guests. The garden staff wore brown overalls. They mowed the lawn, and worked in the vegetable shamba across the lake. Around ten in the morning a bell rang and everyone disappeared for a tea-break. The manager wore a smart khaki Kaunda suit, and marched hither and thither, but to no apparent purpose.

Then there was Joyce, the chambermaid. Her husband worked down at Kibwezi and was a forestry officer. She lived with her two little boys in the staff bandas at the bottom of the garden. On her days off she went home to the family farm. She told me that I should learn Ki-Swahili since it was very easy. I agreed, but only learned a smattering. The hello, how are you: jambo, habari yako?

Between the gentle staff activity, there was only the wildlife to observe, vervet monkeys planning raids on our room, pied kingfishers diving, yellow weavers endlessly weaving, herons clattering their bills in the thorn tree heronry, marabou storks lurking like spectres on the lawn, hadada ibis winking out grubs with their curvy bills. And over all, the high-tension whine of crickets that could drive you mad when you were not feeling well.

Joyce our chambermaid



One of the features of Kiboko, I soon discovered, was the wood carvers’ stalls opposite the Lodge. Sometimes I took my clothes down to Esther who ran such a stall, and traded them for Akamba carvings. She struck a hard deal, and I was a simpleton when it came to haggling. G was nonetheless impressed since it lightened the contents of my two bags.

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Esther at her stall with son, Tom


And so it was that Hunter’s Lodge became a home of sorts. Whichever way we approached it on the Mombasa highway, my eyes would fix on the green grove of fever trees, and my spirits would lift as we turned off the road. There was Steamy Steamy to look forward to, the smoky taste of the tea, Reuben the breakfast waiter who always asked us if we were having eggs though we never did. Only later did we discover that we had paid for a full breakfast in with our room rate. There was the birdlife to watch, and the sleepy routine of the hotel staff to keep tabs on; there were the steaks that our weak teeth found impossible to process, the fireflies and the vervets, and there were the brief African sunsets as the light turned through lavender and orange to black, black night. There was irony too, for it was of course the metalled road that turned Hunter’s Lodge from oasis to backwater, making the coast accessible in a single day: an unintended consequence of progress. 

I remember the long nights I lay awake, listening to the whine of insects, the drone of trucks on the Mombasa highway, the hoot of the train on Uganda railway. We are in Africa, I would tell myself. And even when I was there, so very much present in every sense, it still seemed like a dream. Perhaps this land was the original Garden of Eden. When we left it, we took our self-regarding selves to material greatness. Maybe the price for this knowledge was the loss of wisdom. Even now, so many years on, I still travel the road to Kiboko, at least in spirit,  and ponder this conundrum. The great safari continues…


Letter from Kathleen Collins Howell, illustrator and best friend

Daily Prompt: on the road

© 2013 Tish Farrell

Weekly Photo Challenge: saturated – Baked Bramleys and Autumn Bliss

Weekly Photo Challenge: Saturated



The fat Bramley apples came from the Women’s Institute market, held in Much Wenlock every Thursday morning. The trestle tables are set out in the old Corn Exchange outside the library and are invariably laden with home-baked cakes – Lemon Drizzle, Rich Fruit, Iced Ginger, Millionaire’s Shortbread. Then there are the jams and marmalade.

But in recent weeks – this being the season of over-laden fruit trees – there has also been garden produce, and in particular bags of Bramley cooking apples. And what better thing to do with a Bramley than to bake it, stuffed with the last of the allotment raspberries?

The raspberries are called Autumn Bliss, and deliciously live up to their name; and especially so when added to apple. The synergy of hot, fruity flavours hits every taste bud with a satisfying zing.

This is how I cooked them.


Baked Apples


Per person: one apple, a handful of fruit, a good teaspoon of honey, a sliver of butter

Set oven to 200 C, 190 C for fan versions

With a corer or sharp knife carefully remove the apple middles, making sure all  tough core bits are excised. 

Remove the peel from the upper half of the fruit, then place in a greased oven-proof dish.

Stuff the apple centres with raspberries, adding a good teaspoon of runny honey to each apple. I used fair trade wild Zambian honey, which is cold-pressed, and has a rich, slightly smoky flavour.

Scatter any spare raspberries over the top.

Slather a small nugget of  farmhouse butter over each apple.

Add half a cup of water to the dish.

Bake for around 30 minutes, basting with the juices half way through. Bramleys have a habit of exploding, as mine were about to do, so keep an eye on them.


Desert apples can also be baked, though they need longer, slower cooking and must be well basted. The result is not as ‘fluffy’ as a Bramley, and it’s better to remove all the peel. But desert apples often have a more distinctive flavour. Dip them first in in  water with a squeeze of lemon to stop them discolouring. 

Of course there are endless variations when it comes to stuffing apples. A good old English version is to use sultanas and raisins with a dollop of Golden Syrup.  You could make my version more sophisticated with a drizzle of an appropriate liqueur. Armagnac springs to mind. Or Creme de Cassis. And serve with some toasted almond flakes. But however you make them, they always go well with Greek yoghurt. (Or thick farmhouse cream…)

© 2013 Tish Farrell

Making Eden: new patterns for living?


Is this how you picture the Garden of Paradise: that mythic, perfect place from which shame caused humankind to be forever banished? Probably not.

Personally, I do not have time for dogma founded on guilt, but I do have time for the Eden Project, one of Britain’s most ambitious Millennium schemes that in the year 2000 saw an abandoned Cornish china clay quarry transformed into a world-famous visitor attraction and charity. 

The photo above, raided once more from the Team Leader’s files, was taken that year inside the Rainforest Biome. This extraordinary Sci-Fi structure is  apparently twice as high as Big Ben, and planted with more than 1,000 species. In this  audacious new world, pests and diseases are managed with an array of biological controls, including bugs that eat other bugs, birds and lizards. It is an on-going experiment in life management.

The man behind Eden in all senses is Tim Smit, Netherlands-born, British entrepreneur. He conceived the idea while working on the restoration of the Lost Gardens of Heligan also in Cornwall. Both these enterprises have not only enthused and informed millions of visitors from all over the planet, but injected millions of pounds into Cornwall’s struggling economy. Like an infinity of interlinked hexagons, it has been having a multiplier effect.

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Eden’s creator, Tim Smit. Photo: Creative Commons (source Tim Smit)


And what is Eden Project saying to us?

plants give us our food, fuel, materials and medicines”

“plants are part of a wider ecosystem that provides our water and air”

“the natural world can be beautiful, relaxing and inspiring”



“In a changing world, we need imagination and enterprise; we need to foster our skills and talents; we need communities to get engaged in inventing new, more sustainable ways of living together.”


As a belief system to live by, I can accept all of these propositions. Now see the video of some Eden’s ideals in action:

Arch Wizard of Wales: Clough Williams-Ellis “Architect Errant”

Surely only a wizard could have conjured this  place – or so I thought, aged six, when we, the Ashford family first made pilgrimage to Portmeirion on the North Wales coast.


“Cherish the past. Adorn the present. Construct for the future.” This was the life-long credo of Clough Williams-Ellis, the man who dared to build an Italianesque village on a beautiful Welsh headland.


It was like stepping into a living picture book or melting through the mirror into Looking Glass Land. The houses were the rich, powdery, pastel shades of Loveheart sweets (does this strange confection still exist?). There were mythic frescoes in places were a child might least expect them, and best of all, a shell grotto that was just like the Little Mermaid’s deep-sea garden.

It was enchanting from the moment we stepped through the gatehouse entrance. How could there be so much colour, so many decorative flourishes to catch the eye, so many mermaids – here on a wooded Welsh headland with the lowering grey sky above? And the weather was gloomy on that first visit; I was forced to wear my dull brown mac over my pretty summer dress. The photos taken that day show me looking pensive and withdrawn. But I did love the place, and was quick to register the tones of admiration in my parents’ voices whenever they uttered the name of the man who had conceived this folly to beat all follies – Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, self-taught architect and champion for the preservation of rural Britain.

Clough Williams-Ellis (left) with Frank Lloyd Wright at Portmeirion in 1956


Of course he built Portmeirion to prove a point: that a beautiful site could be developed without wrecking  it. When he bought the land in 1925  he described it as “a neglected wilderness.” There was “a pale mansion, a hundred years old, spread along the balustraded terrace on the sea’s edge.”

That house became the Portmeirion Hotel, and some of its associated cottages were integrated in the village plan. The two previous owners from the 1850s onwards had planted the site extensively with specimen oriental trees and exotic plants, many of which still survive. The planting, along with the building of a close-knit hillside village continued from 1925 under Clough’s direction for the next fifty years.

Many of the original plans still exist. The first phase of development was influenced by Clough’s interest in the Arts and Crafts movement. Later buildings followed Classical lines. He also made use of what today we refer to as architectural salvage, and indeed he called Portmeirion  “a home for fallen buildings.” With this architectural bricolage are references to some 5,000 years of architectural history from around the world. Critics of modernist inclination thus tend to overlook Clough’s contribution to architecture. This is a mistake. On our most recent visit to Wales we discovered his Caffi Morannedd Cafe at Criccieth, a few miles north of Porthmadog.


Caffi Morannedd by the sea at Criccieth


Of course it was at Portmeirion that I first learned there was such a thing as architecture, and that this was something altogether more momentous and wonderful than drawing pictures of “our house” as one endlessly did at primary school.

Clough was also intent on giving people pleasure. He fought all his life to create and preserve beauty, which he called “that strange necessity.” But this did not mean that he was against development. “Enterprise by all means,” he said in 1931 when he was Chairman of the Council for the Rural Protection of Wales, “but reasonable, seemly development where it is in the public interest and nowhere else.”

And oh how fine it would be if English planning authorities were ruled by such objectives, instead of developer aspiration.


As a child, I liked the way the houses seemed to have grown out of the rocky hillside, and that there was a mysterious “smugglers’ path” through a tunnel of overgrown rhododendrons that led to a secret sandy cove and the little tin lighthouse on the headland. It was all such fun, and created by a man who, like any magician, or indeed a wizard, wanted everyone to take delight in his illusions.

And now, since this post was prompted by Sue Llewellyn’s Word A Week arch challenge, here are some more views of Portmeirion – naturally with arches of all kinds in mind – all taken last week in Wales under mostly sunny skies.



Unicorn Cottage: this illusion of a stately home is in fact a bungalow



Arch with a view: glimpse of the estuary below the village





In the foreground, behind the palms, is the colonnade from a Bristol bathhouse built in 1760. Another view below.




There are cafes and restaurants in the village, and cottages to let.



Mermaid Cottage was already on the site when Clough bought the land. It was built in the 1850s, and Clough adorned it with the canopy and added the palms for the Mediterranean look.






The Hercules Gazebo, complete with cast iron mermaid panels, serves to disguise a generator.







The Prisoner, the cult TV series of the late 1960s starring Patrick McGoohan, was filmed at Portmeirion. It put Portmeirion on the map and its association with the place is still celebrated.



Arches at all angles.



Archway to the Piazza and (below) the Piazza itself below.




The village from the estuary.


The arc of the Dwyryd Estuary taken from the esplanade at the Portmeirion Hotel



Clough Williams-Ellis 1883-1978  Photo: Polandeze Creative Commons

A man who lived creatively in all senses, and whose work has delighted millions.

copyright 2013 Tish Farrell


Looking for Giles aka Private Victor Rowles 1896-1915


It began with a locket owned by my great grandmother, Mary Ann Williamson Rowles, nee Fox. And it began with a long ago memory of her daughter, my grandmother, Lilian Shorrocks, telling me of a much loved younger step-brother. She said that he had died during the Great War, that he was shot while getting off a boat.

I was seven or eight at the time and did not understand what she was talking about, but I registered the sorrow at a young man pointlessly lost. I pictured him walking down a gang-plank from an ocean-going liner. For some reason I imagined he was wearing a brown suit as someone shot him. Perhaps grandmother had said the word Gallipoli. I can’t be sure, but all my life its utterance has somehow resonated, though without my knowing why.

Recently, I did find out why, and still find myself astonished that I can discover more of this forgotten ancestor’s too brief life by simply trawling the internet. Of course, as Su Leslie so often shows on her excellent family history blog, Shaking the Tree, discovering one nugget of information often raises a dozen other mysteries. But then that only makes the search all the more beguiling.


The locket is now mine and it contains the plaited hair of all Mary Ann’s five children, including her step-son, Robert Shorrocks. The other children are my grandmother and her two siblings, Mary and Tom, born from great grandmother’s first marriage to Thomas Shorrocks of Farnworth, Manchester. And finally there is Giles, the youngest. He was born in 1896, a year after Mary Ann married widower, Charles Rowles, a master mariner and captain of a pilot boat on the Manchester Ship Canal.

It is Giles’ photograph in the locket. He is an impressive looking boy. The direct gaze, yet self-contained. I find myself wondering if he looked like his father, for we have no photo of Charles Rowles. My grandmother did not care for him, keeping only his big seaman’s chest which I also have. Otherwise, she threw out most of the family memorabilia that came down to her. She kept the locket though, and Mary Ann’s fine collection of miniature Shakespeare’s plays and poets. There is also a single faded photograph of my great grandmother, taken some time before she was married. My own mother always said that she had eloped.

Mary Ann Williamson Fox was a farmer’s daughter, her family having been yeoman farmers for generations. In fact they claimed to have lived on the farm called Callow since the 11th century. Family  mythology  also had it that a Fox ancestor was employed by the Eyre family as steward, the Eyres having been given land in Derbyshire for services rendered to William the Conqueror. Later the Duke of Devonshire from his grand house at Chatsworth became the landlord, and Mary Ann, at seventeen, is said to have opened the Chatsworth tenants’ ball with the Duke, she being the daughter of the oldest tenant-family  on the estate. For a long time the buttons of the dress she wore were fondly kept. Blue silk-covered ones, I was told.  I don’t know what happened to them.


Mary Ann Williamson Fox in her late teens c. 1880



Callow Farm, Hathersage, Derbyshire where the Fox family lived from at least the 1700s, and where Mary Ann was born. This photo was taken in the 1970s.


How it was that country girl Mary Ann came to fall for a spindle manufacturer from Bolton, Manchester is the first of many mysteries. My grandmother said that her mother fell for the first townie she saw in a stove-pipe hat. Maybe he was in the area on business. In any event, Thomas Shorrocks was a widower, ten years older than Mary Ann, and with a young son, Robert. Mary Ann was 22 and they were married by special license at St Michael’s church, Hathersage, with her elder brother, Robert and his wife, Edith, as witnesses.

Thomas took his young wife from the wilds of the Derbyshire peaks where she was used to riding at will, and jumping farm-gates on her pony, to live in the gloomy streets of Farnworth. There, the ever darkly clad mill women regarded  Mary Ann’s country print dresses with deep suspicion.

The Shorrocks lived in a modest terraced house on Kildare Street, although Mary Ann did have a servant, a girl she had brought from Hathersage. Soon there were three more young children, offspring whom Thomas Shorrocks apparently made a point of avoiding, staying out of the house until they had gone to bed. My grandmother said she did not know him. Then disaster struck. In 1893, only seven years into the marriage, Mary Ann was left a widow. Not only that, in the same year, the Shorrocks family company that, in 1861 had employed 32 men and 22 boys, was declared bankrupt. Perhaps it was this that finished off poor Thomas at the age of 39.

It is not clear where Mary Ann was for the next year or so, but in 1895, Warrington licensing records show that she had taken over the running of the Old Red Lion inn in Hollinfare, (also called Hollins Green) a farming village near the Manchester Ship Canal. The inn, as was common in rural areas, had also once been run as a farm. It thus came with pasture, cow sheds and stabling.


The Old Red Lion today has seen extensive alterations in the 1960s and 1980s. It was one of the oldest inns in the village, and already in existence by the 1670s. Although Giles was born there in 1896, I’m not sure he would quite recognize it today.


Family legend says that the Fox family arranged for Mary Ann to take over the inn so she would have a roof over her head and an income to support her family. In fact it seems she took over the license from one George Fox who had been landlord there since 1894. This could have been either her father, George Brayley Fox, or her younger brother, George. Her father had sold up the farm stock in 1892 due to a depression in agriculture, and then given up the tenancy on Callow Farm.  After 1893 there were no more Foxes at Callow, a circumstance that made the local and regional press in that year.


Derbyshire Times & Chesterfield Herald 25 March 1893


When Mary Ann took over the inn in Hollinfare she called herself Mary Ann Williamson using her Christian names, and dropping the Shorrocks. Perhaps she wanted to escape the taint of bankruptcy. A year later she was getting married to Charles Rowles. Perhaps, when he was not piloting cargo ships into Manchester, he visited the inn. Again, he was considerably older, this time a widower with two grown-up daughters. According to my grandmother, the existence of these two young women was a surprise to everyone. They apparently came and ruled the roost for a time.

In 1901, Mary Ann exchanged inns with another woman licensee, and moved to the Bowling Green Inn at the top of the village. The inn no longer exists, and Hollinfare’s community centre now occupies the site. The reason for such a move is unclear, but perhaps the premises had more living accommodation. By now Mary Ann’s rather simple-minded younger sister, Louisa, was living with her and helping with household duties. It is likely,too, that their father also came to live there at some point, since he is buried in Hollinfare’s little cemetery, along with Mary Ann.

And so we come to Giles. In 1903, when he was seven, his father died. In 1909, when he was thirteen, Mary Ann died. Her death certificate suggests she was by then living with her step-son, Robert Shorrocks in Moss Side, Manchester. He witnessed her death from heart disease. She was 46.

What happened to Giles at this point is another mystery. The 1911 census shows the four Shorrocks siblings living in Moss Side. Robert is head of household and Aunt Louisa is still taking care of household duties. By now Robert is 28 and an insurance agent. My great aunt Mary and grandmother Lilian are in their early twenties and listed as ‘blouse finishers’. The youngest brother, Tom, was 19 and a railway clerk. Giles, though, is not with them. He is now 15 years old and trainee clerk with a shipping broker far away in Cardiff. He is living with his father’s widowed sister-in-law, Louisa Rowles and her two adult children. In 1912 there’s the possibility that he took passage to Halifax, Canada on the SS Hesperian, but there is no conclusive evidence.

When he appears again it is 15 October 1914. He is 18 and 7 months and enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in Melbourne, Australia. He calls himself a sailor (all the Rowles men had sea-faring connections). AND he has changed his name to Victor. The enlistment papers give Louisa Rowles of Cardiff as his next of kin. He specifically denies ever having served an apprenticeship. (Did he run away to sea to escape being a clerk?)

But why the change of name? My own guess is that Giles seemed too soft a name for mariner. His military papers show he was 5 feet 5 inches. Perhaps a little on the short side too, so may be he felt he had something to prove. We’ll never know. There is no one left to ask.

He joined the 14th Battalion AIF and would then have gone to Broadmeadows for training, before embarking for Egypt on the Berrima in December 1914. After further training in Egypt, the 14th took part in the April landing at Gallipoli. So began the gruesome, fruitless, bloody siege. All we know is that he survived to take part in the August Offensive. This involved the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps moving up the coast to attack two peaks of the Sari Bair range while the British and French forces defended Helles.

Giles was presumably wounded while trying to land for the second time in 5 months on this torturous, wretched shore. The next record is 8 August 1915 when Private Victor Rowles no. 1402 is admitted to the hospital ship Devanha with gunshot wounds. He died at 10pm on 10 August and was buried at sea, 2 miles east of Mudros Harbour, Lemnos.

An inventory of his effects was made in 1916. It comprises “one brown paper parcel” which includes a cigarette case, pipe, letters, photos and a handkerchief. These were apparently sent to Aunt Louisa Rowles. Later, in 1919, official records say she received a memorial plaque and scroll. It is not clear what happened to his medals: 1914-15 Star, British War medal and Victory Medal.

Giles is commemorated in his ill-fated name of Victor at Lone Pine Memorial, Turkey and on the Australian War Memorial at Canberra. In the quiet little cemetery at Hollinfare, his passing is marked under his given name of Giles. Perhaps his step-siblings added the inscription to his parents’ and grandfather’s stone.  It commemorates “Pte Giles son of the above Charles and Mary A Rowles, who died of wounds received at the Dardanelles on August 1oth 1915 aged 19. He hath done what he could.”


But in the end, and despite all the family tragedies, I would like to think that Giles had some happiness in his short life: when he went to sea; or in his early days in Hollinfare. My grandmother adored him, and her older sister Mary was said the kindest soul. I feel sure they would have ‘mothered’ him, probably beyond a boy’s endurance. Step-brother, Robert Shorrocks also appears  to have been everyone’s rock, including his step-mother’s. Certainly in old age he was still very close to my grandmother and grandfather.

Of her childhood days, grandmother told of how they used to raid the inn pantry for tinned fruit, and eat it secretly out in the garden. Then  they would slide down the steep banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, getting their knickers green. There were annual visits by the dancing bear and his man whom Mary Ann allowed to stay in the inn stables.

27338[1] - Copy

I would like to think that this photo of Hollinfare boys around the Coronation Tree included Giles. In the background is St. Helen’s chapel where Mary Ann could well have married Charles Rowles in 1895. These propositions, along with many others, remain to be verified. The search for Giles/Victor Rowles continues…


© 2013 Tish Farrell

Marvellous Multicoloured Maine


I read somewhere that most Americans, when asked, said they would like to live in Maine. I’m not surprised. This time last year we were setting off there with high hopes. We were not disappointed.  Our American cousins had given us the use of their magical beach house in Ocean Park, Old Orchard Beach. Later we would go to their farm in Richmond where they keep alpacas. So here’s a tribute to colourful Maine, and big thank you to Jan and Craig Wanggaard.

Travel theme: Multicoloured










Portland 10






Portland Headlight 3




The Farm 16

The Farm 6



And finally, a sea-faring ‘garden gnome’. When I posted this photo on my Face Book page, FB wanted to me to tag and say (quote) “who this person” was. Any guesses?


Sydney Harbour Bridge reflected from the Sydney Opera: an unusual point of view



We have a copy of this photo on our landing wall, taken by the Team Leader some years ago. I suppose it’s a case of familiarity  making you forget to look at things with due care and attention. In fact, come to think of it, I may have scanned the slide back to front and upside down. But then that should be OK too for this particular challenge, and whichever way, I think it deserves a more appreciative audience. The man who caught this image by chance doesn’t seem to think that it’s up to much as a photograph. What do you think?


Kevin, Kudu and Kirinyaga








Kevin was the talented young naturalist who was our guide and driver when we visited the Lewa Conservancy Trust, north of Mount Kenya, many years ago. At sundown it was he who spotted the kudu in deep cover long before they emerged from the brush for us to see them. Wildlife photos tend to give you the wrong idea of what game spotting is really like. Often the sightings are frustratingly vague and fleeting. The second kudu shot is not really in focus but then it shows how it was – beautiful creatures melting silently into the bush.

In the final photo you can see Grevy’s Zebra, a special focus of the conservation effort at Lewa. Kevin said he called them Micky Mouse because of their rounded ears. Their stripes are much finer than the common Burchell’s zebra.

In the far distance are the misty spires of Mount Kenya, which  local people also know as Kirinyaga. The mountain top is one of the dwelling places of Ngai, the Creator of All, and has been considered a sacred place  for centuries – long before missionaries set foot in East Africa and tried to teach them about one God.

Lewa was once a colonial cattle farm, but now it is a private conservation enterprise working alongside local communities to improve the quality of life for humans and animals alike. In consequence, they have an impressive anti-poaching record. See the video below and take heart in the fact that conservation in Africa can also be a success story.

Letters from Lusaka: Part II


In 1992-1993, during the first years of Zambia’s multi-party democracy, we were posted to Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.  The Team Leader was charged with distributing European Union food aid to drought-stricken Zambians. (Part I is HERE). For the first couple of weeks, and the irony was not lost on us, we lived in the 4-star Pomodzi Hotel, in air-conditioned luxury.


Notes from an aid nomad’s life in Zambia

While we are still at the Pomodzi I do the unthinkable as far as white locals are concerned. I walk out of the hotel grounds and down a couple of avenues to the Ridgeway Hotel. One of the visiting NRI chaps has told me that it has a good gift shop, and there may be the possibility of finding some local books.

I set off on the basis that as I am not travelling by car, I will not be car-jacked. I am not. I buy a wonderful Tonga basket and a small olive-wood elephant for luck, but there are no books. I do find a map though – Lusaka one side, Zambia on the other. I study the country’s boundaries, trying to make sense of colonial cobbling that created a nation whose North Province lies to the east of its Central Province.

The country nestles in the heart of southern Africa between eight countries. In outline it resembles a foetal chick curled on its back within a protecting shell. In reality, though, I soon learn that Zambia has no such protection. It simply has too many borders and not enough military personnel. There are only some 300, 000 taxpayers in a population of eight million, which is not enough to pay for more soldiers. The north-west border with Zaire is lethally porous. Members of President Mobutu’s own unpaid armed forces regularly drive into Zambia’s Copper Belt and conduct armed pillaging campaigns against innocent drivers and householders. Sometimes they come as far south as Lusaka.



Pomodizi Hotel


We are told that when driving at night we must never stop at red traffic lights (locally known as robots), since this is the moment that car-jackers will choose to pounce. Over in Eastern Province the threat comes from the conflict in Mozambique as RENAMO guerrillas cross the border to shoot up Zambian buses and steal food. In Western Province UNITA fighters from Angola’s war terrorize Zambian villagers. Famine, then, is only one cause of death; there are many others, and the mineral resources that Cecil Rhodes sought so hard to control through his dark-hearted dealings with local chiefs are high on the list.


AIDS awareness down on Cairo Road.


Then there is malaria and tuberculosis, and as the rains bucket down through December, the cholera season begins. Overflowing septic tanks and pit latrines are polluting the city’s boreholes. At first, oblivious of such dangers, we eat out at downtown restaurants. We are down in Livingstone, near the Zimbabwe border, G checking out the contents of grain stores, when I am stricken with amoebic dysentery. Again it is the Delegation secretary who comes to the rescue and directs us to the mining companies’ private clinic, downtown on Cairo Road. The diagnostic facilities there are impressive, the British-born doctor patronizing. But after a three-day course of very large pills, I recover. I am lucky. Of course I am.


Sable Road - compound pool

Six or so houses share the gardens, including a very small pool.


We like our little house. It is red brick, single storey with a sheet iron roof that, during the rains, resounds as if someone is firing bullets into a host of upturned buckets. The living room has French doors opening onto a tiny high-walled garden. There is a big avocado tree in the corner where African sparrows come twittering in to roost in late afternoon. Above the wall, when it is not raining, arcs the blue Zambian sky. To the rear, a small kitchen gives onto a walled back yard and a patch of grass. There are two bedrooms, a tiny study and a bathroom. Outside the front door is a communal garden and terrace – garden seats set by a small swimming pool, a tall palm that rustles endlessly in the high plateau breezes, a sweet scented frangipani tree. No house overlooks any other and there are shady walk ways in between each property.

Sable Road our sitting room

Home in Sable Road


The gardens are tended by a gentle young man called Stephen Nyangu. His name suggests erstwhile connections with the Nyanja royal clan. But Stephen’s situation is a far cry from tribal pre-eminence. He sweeps, mows, weeds, plants, prunes and waters six days a week, from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon. Then he cycles the couple of miles to his compound home in Leopard’s Hill Road where he lives with his wife and four children. The gardens he cares for bloom strangely under sub-tropical skies with tea roses, violets, pansies, Sweet William and Madonna lilies. He also washes all the cars and hefts all the dustbins to the big compound gate to be emptied once a week. For this he earns twelve thousand kwacha a month, about eighteen pounds. He has no leave beyond national holidays, and after work he runs a cigarette stall.


Stephen Nyangu works day and night to keep his family.


On my first day in our new home, it is Stephen who knocks on my door. “Good morning, madam. My name is Stephen. If there is anything you want me to do, I am just out there.” He gestures in the general vicinity of the pool. “Call me.” He is the only person on the compound who bothers to introduce himself. In ten months we scarcely see any of the other tenants beyond the Sikh couple who live next door. They nod to us. They have two much pampered, miniature Pomeranians and a maid called Isa. Isa looks a good-hearted soul and she works in several of the other households on the compound once she has done her daily tasks for the Sikhs. These include much furious chopping at seven a.m. Perhaps she is chopping for the Pomeranians. When she is left in charge of them for three months while their owners go on leave, she grows so fed up with their insistent yapping that one day she yells SHUT UP. And so shocked are the indulged little canines, that they do just that. I want to hug Isa.

I further decide that my house is scarcely big enough to justify even a once-a-week cleaner, this despite the constant slick of red dust that blows in every day. I thus do my own housework.

Our compound is on Sable Road in Kabulonga, the heart of the diplomatic quarter. Our next door neighbour is the Egyptian Embassy. At night the guards fire off rifles. We never do know what is going on there, and sometimes it sounds like a siege. Our compound is one of the least fortified on the road. The iron gate has open railings instead of sheet metal armour plating, and our day guard, Sammy, always leaves it unlocked  anyway during the day, while he plays draughts with a neighbouring house-guard. He’s a bit  nonplussed by my habit of going out on foot, and at first dashes from his game to open the gate as if I were a passing vehicle. We soon come to a silent arrangement whereby we greet each other, I open the gate for myself and he keeps on with his game. 

We soon discover that our household security provision falls short of official standards. European Union and British High Commission employees are advised to have internal security gates installed, external security lights, roof siren, alarm buttons, window bars, a pack of Dobermans and ridgebacks, a two-way radio and armed twenty-four-hour guards. The fortification of a property may cost around £5,000. Somehow we survive without most of these devices, although the top of our garden wall, which also forms the rear of the compound, is quite high and is further cemented with shards of broken glass.


Sable Road in the dry season.


The nights, though, can be nerve-wracking. Rounds of automatic gunfire are common after dark. Some European locals, we hear, have made a ritual of standing on their front lawn at 9 pm every night and shooting off their sporting rifles – just to let “the thieving bastards” know what’s what. These are the same people who will tell you that, when they are not trying to relieve you of all your worldly goods, the Africans are really very charming. But gunfire aside, it is anyway hard to sleep in the perpetual gloaming of the security lights dotted around our compound. The insects, too, grow louder as the night draws on, and then the dogs wake us.

Elite suburban living

Expatriate living: guard house and armoured gates.


I call it the Kabulonga Howling. It begins with a solitary keening which swells into a relayed dog lament that spreads from compound to compound until a monstrous crescendo resounds across the suburbs. Once reached, it quickly subsides, to be replaced by the insistent beat of Zambian disco music, thrumming away beyond our perimeter wall. We have no idea who lives behind our glass-spiked rampart. I have tried standing on the brick barbeque in the back yard, but I still cannot see over the wall. Instead, I often hear a Zambian boy badgering his little sister whose name is Lorna. Lorna is always being ordered to do something or other. There is meek compliance in her little voice. It is the lot of many Zambian women to defer to men, and my heart aches for her. One day I find an arrow in the back garden – a stiff plant stem tipped with a bent Mosi beer bottle cap. For a moment I examine it like Robinson Crusoe finding unsettling signs of life on his confining island shore.

By day G. drives off early to the EU Delegation. It is only five minutes’ drive away. I begin to tend the back garden, sowing beans, courgettes, carrots. Things quickly sprout, but the land snails are as big as my fist. I write and read, although finding books is a challenge. We can find no bookshops in Zambia since the nation can no longer support a publishing industry. Once a week we drive down to the British Council on Cairo Road to borrow books from their library. We do this, ignoring white Zambians’ warnings that our Suburu will be car-jacked if we park anywhere downtown. Whenever we go to the library, most of Zambia’s students seem to be studying hard, filling every seat. It is hard to gain qualifications in a land without books.

Newsprint , too, is hard to come by. Newspapers sell out quickly each day and I have to rely on G. bringing the Delegation copy home at lunch-time for quick scan through. Soon we hear that four Zambian Daily Mail accountants have been arrested for ripping off their own company’s limited newsprint stock and selling it to a rival newspaper.

Then there is the challenge of household shopping. Our local shop is Kabulonga supermarket where I frequently search the shelves to the strains of  Michael Bolton’s The Lady in Red. A beautiful girl in cobalt blue chitenge and matching head-cloth that is  tied with great flourishes, is often on the till. She has the poise of a princess.

When it comes to shopping, it is a matter of buying whatever is in stock and then thinking of something to do with it. Treats include cartons of delicious and imported Ceres grape juice, and jars of sweet pickled beetroot. The local yoghourt comes in big tubs, plain or strawberry. Other staples include corned beef and South African wine. The supermarket smells of countless forms of perfumed cleaning products that at Christmas time are parcelled up into gift packs to make the ideal gift, along with small bales of second hand clothing.

Kamwala roadside furniture market

There are plenty of roadside artisans. We bought our bed from traders in  Kamwala Market


There are of course shopping opportunities everywhere along Lusaka’s streets – cigarette and second hand clothes stalls, a man selling bread, another with his scrawny hens, fish from a freezer connected to nothing, caterpillars dried or roasted, large woodland mushrooms the colour of cygnet down, little pyramids of tomatoes. If I buy two piles of tomatoes from the young woman in the photo, she gives me an extra tomato as a “special gift”, and then wraps the lot in computer print-out.


I also walk down to the Maluwa Cooperative in the hopes of something more interesting than beetroot and corned beef. Again I never know what I will find there: perhaps, if I’m lucky, a good mission-reared chicken in the cold cabinet, or button mushrooms, some Gouda cheese, broccoli, new potatoes, French beans, bunches of roses. If he catches me walking, an elderly white Zambian in a pick-up, (his ‘boys’ in the back), always insists on giving me a lift. He means well, and it is easier to comply with his desire to save me from imagined predations of Zambians than to argue.

But I like it out on the road. There is so much life there outside the high walled, razor-wired residences of the elite. People greet me. A taxi driver trying to mend his broken-down car offers me a lift, presumably in hopes that if I agree, his vehicle will conveniently right itself. I grin and say no thanks. I like his style though. As I step out again on the dirt road that has lost its asphalt, my footprints are impressed in the dust among the countless prints of others.


G. spends his days rushing round to meetings with aid agencies. There are fears that donations of free maize will dissuade farmers from planting their own crops, despite the good rains. Too much free maize is also likely to depress the economy, and this must be avoided. Much is given out as payment for working on public enterprises such as road building or making bricks for the building of clinics. Unemployed women, in particular, are keen to do such work. Receiving a sack of mealie meal, sugar, beans and cooking oil in return for their labour gives them independence from menfolk who might otherwise take any cash earnings. G. also has to travel down south to Choma and Kalomo to oversee the distribution of EU maize by the Red Cross. There are more trips out east and to the Copper Belt.


Villagers coming to collect cooking oil and maize meal from Red Cross food aid distributers.



A farmer shows Graham his empty granary.


In March G. comes home saying there is a bit of flap on. Brussels has phoned the E.U. Delegation saying that the BBC has reported a coup in Zambia: is everything all right there, they ask. The diplomats scratch their heads. No coup has been observed, but a few days later it is clear that something has happened. Major Rezi Kaunda, son of the long-serving and recently supplanted, ex-president, Kenneth Kaunda, has been arrested. He is reported as being under armed guard. Further details explain, somewhat bizarrely, that he is sitting in the yard of Woodlands police station with his flask of tea and a radio. Fourteen plotters in all have been arrested both in Lusaka and the Copper Best. These include the editor-in-chief of the Zambia Times.

Later we hear that an incriminating document, The Zero Option, has been seized. It gives detailed plans of how members of the UNIP opposition old guard, led by Rezi, intend to make Zambia ungovernable by fuelling a crime wave, infiltrating the unions and government departments. It is mooted that this campaign of destabilisation has already been instigated and is responsible for the alarming crime wave.

President Chiluba has only been in office for a little over a year. His Movement for Multi-Party Democracy defeated Kenneth Kaunda in the first democratically held elections since Independence in 1964. Kaunda Senior had been in power all that time, but on defeat, chose to bow out gracefully. Meanwhile Frederick Chiluba claims that he is on a clean-up mission of this potentially rich, but now run-down state. He declares a limited State of Emergency while order is restored.

We all breathe a sigh of relief. No need for the emergency evacuation that the High Commission is so unlikely to provide for us. Besides, G. still has much work to do, and there’s so much I still want to discover. One thing I am itching to know is how this copper-rich nation, with its deposits of sapphires and amethysts and airy upland mopane forests is one of the poorest on earth. Why are its impoverished, beleaguered but hard-working peoples being so ruthlessly structurally adjusted by the World Bank? I am beginning to suspect that the spirit of Cecil Rhodes is restless and abroad once more, but that, as they say is another story.

Eastern Province

Zambia is often called ‘the air-conditioned state’. It comprises an upthrust, tilted plateau some 5,000 feet above seal level. The natural vegetation is mopane woodland. This view was taken along the Great East Road.

Lusaka agricultural show - miniature railway

Lusaka agricultural show - kids

Lusaka agricultural show - Boy and copper belt truck tyre

Kids at the Annual Lusaka Agricultural Show. 1993’s slogan is ‘Produce to Prosper’. Produce and get a fair price  from multi-nationals would be my preferred slogan.


© 2013 Tish Farrell