Great Rift ~ Beneath The Skin, Our Common Humanity




Not homeland,

but sourceland;

scored in genetic code;

branded in bone:

thorn trees’ jasmine scent,

red pepper dust on the tongue,

sifted on skin,

while beneath our feet

obsidian’s glint,

shards of the earth’s dark heart;

the Rift,




copyright 2015 Tish Farrell


Timbuktu: doorway to the past

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I haven’t snaffled any of Graham’s photos for a while, but as doors go, both of itself and where it is located, and the fact that a Tuareg pastoralist happened to step into the frame, I thought this was one well worth posting.  It was taken on G’s Africa overland trip during a stopover in Timbuktu.

The plaque above the door marks the fact that French explorer René Caillié once stayed in this house.  The stay was brief, two weeks in April/May 1827, but he had apparently spent many months in preparation, staying with the Moors in Mauretania, learning Arabic, and converting to Islam so he could pass himself off as an Arab. His objective was to win a 10,000-franc reward offered by the Société de Géographie in Paris, and to do this he had to be the first European to see and return alive from Timbuktu. That he lived to tell the tale is recounted in his work Description de la ville de Temboctou. The rest of his life,  however, was sadly foreshortened by tuberculosis. He died in his homeland of Western France at the age of thirty eight.

Timbuktu of course has a long and illustrious history. From 1325 AD it became part of the immensely rich  and highly cultivated Malian Empire under the rule, Musa Keita I, also known as Mansa Musa (c. 1280 – c. 1337). He was probably the richest man who has ever lived, and it was he who developed the town, bringing in architects from Andalusia in Spain, and from  Cairo to build his grand palace and the great Djinguereber Mosque. He also had built in the town the University of Sankore, which attracted scholars from across Africa and Middle East. He brought in lawyers, mathematicians and astronomers to staff it, and so began the growth of the magnificent libraries of Timbuktu, and the town as a centre of learning and commerce.

Since that time, thousands of manuscripts had been gathered and cared for by individual Timbuktu families, and treasured as priceless family heirlooms. It is reckoned there are some 300,000 works held in such private family collections. They include not only theological texts, but works on geography and astronomy. Most are in Arabic script, but some are written in African languages of the region.

There was also in Timbuktu until recently, a state-of-the-art conservation library funded by the South African Thabo Mbeki Foundation. This held many thousands of manuscripts, and when Islamist terrorists invaded the town and torched the centre in 2013, it was feared that these works of international importance had been destroyed. However, the people of Timbuktu had seen the destroyers coming and, desperate to save their heritage, had been smuggling the works to safety in cars, carts and canoes, often hidden under crates of vegetables. It was a daring mission, and you can read  more of their brave endeavour in the BBC story HERE.

And so this brings me back to the title of this piece: doorway to the past, and to the question I feel bound to ask myself: Just how much of the history of the African continent has either been destroyed – wilfully by invaders, including slavers and European colonists, or lost through the relentless shifting of the Sahara’s sands, and other forms of climate change. The stories we mostly hear out of Africa are of conflict, corruption and poverty. Stories that celebrate the creativity, durability, ingenuity, culture and wisdom  of African peoples are not news. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that most of us in Europe were living in mud huts through the centuries when the great African kingdoms were thriving. Perhaps we should remember, too, that civilizations come and go, and our own Western Civilization is not immune from departure.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell


Independence beckons ~ Evelyn taking flight


“These are the things that I want in life: 1. A library of my own; 2. All Rudyard Kipling’s Works; 3) lots of money so that I can make poor people happy.”

Evelyn Ashford aged 14, 1937


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I don’t know who took this photograph of my aunt, Evelyn Ashford. Probably it was my father. I’ve posted it before, but now we’ve cleaned it up a little. It was taken at Pitch Hill, Surrey in around 1937 when Evelyn would have been fourteen. This was the year when she was forced to leave school to both take care of an invalid mother, and then to start work as an apprentice in the local draper’s shop in Guildford.

Given the high hopes she had for herself, leaving school before sitting her Primary School Certificate would have been a deeply wounding blow. In an English exercise of that last year at school she wrote:

“These are the things that I want in life: 1. A library of my own; 2. All Rudyard Kipling’s Works; 3) lots of money so that I can make poor people happy.” She also wanted to have lots of REAL friends and play Madame Defarge in a stage version of Tale of Two Cities. The people she most wanted to meet included Jean Batten, famous New Zealand aviator, H.G. Wells and Alfred Hitchcock.

She did not achieve these ambitions, apart from the Kipling works perhaps. All her life she struggled to make up for her lack of education. All her life she did what she could to enthuse and encourage others to make the most of themselves in whatever community she found herself. She also survived being bombed on a train, breast cancer, and accidental attempts on her life through medical negligence. But she ended her days, cut off from all of us, her mind in another place: abiding in that state they call dementia.

I have written more about her life in other posts, but I always come back to this image of her, on the trig point at Pitch Hill. She died a year ago last October at the age of 90, but still her spirit survives in this photograph: a truly independent spirit I think; one that still has the power to move and inspire.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell


The Many Faces of Evelyn Mary Ashford

Grand Girl, Great Prospects


Inspired by Ailsa’s challenge ‘independence’ at Where’s My Backpack  Please visit her blog for more interpretations of the theme.

Strawberry vodka and the benefits of using a tripod


This story doesn’t begin here, although this is my first ever photograph shot using a tripod (plus a Kodak EasyShare M380 on macro setting). You do not, however, need the tripod for the recipe coming up below, although it could come in handy for balance if you’ve sampled too much of the end product some months hence.

So: the story actually begins at the allotment, and a case of TOO MANY strawberries. Gilly at Lucid Gypsy has also been suffering from the same dilemma. In fact as I was picking all these juicy fruits under a very hot sun, I was wondering if this was indeed a subject for some serious philosophical debate. I mean, can you have too many strawberries?

(N.B. These next two photos did not involve a tripod, only a hot and bothered biped in ‘pick ‘n shoot’ mode.)



So can you have too many strawberries?

It is the sort of question that inevitably leads me to Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book (the companion to her Vegetable Book). She is just the cookery writer you need when you have any excess produce. And it is thanks to her that I will pass on this morning’s activity at the kitchen table in Sheinton Street.


Strawberry Vodka

  • You will need strawberries, fair trade unbleached caster sugar, a  bottle of vodka (or gin if you prefer), and a big jar with a lid that seals.
  • Select DRY strawberries that do not need to be washed, and fill your chosen clean, dry vessel. I used a 2 litre kilner jar (4 pints).
  • Then sprinkle in fair trade caster sugar so it comes a third the way up the jar (I used about 150 gms, 2/3 cup).
  • Fill the jar with vodka so that all the fruit is covered and seal.




Jane Grigson’s instructions then are that you place the jar in a cool, dark place, and turn it over from time to time. After a month the strawberries will look wan and floppy, and you can then strain the lot into a new jar, using a double layer of muslin. Or you can leave the fruit as it is for several months more.

The resulting cordial can then be drunk as a liqueur, and used to pep up sorbets, fools and mousses. My mind is tending (albeit perversely so on this steamy July day)  towards thoughts of Christmas trifle.

I should add that I have never tried this before, but so far it is looking good, and that’s where the tripod came in. I shall definitely be using it again. As to the strawberry vodka, only time will tell.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Catching the wave: learning to shoot lying down


Photography-wise, you could say this is a case of learning from one’s subject.

Anyone who joined me on last week’s walk around Windmill Hill, will probably know  that this drift of yellow is commonly known as Lady’s bedstraw or Lady’s tresses (Galium verum). When dried it smells of freshly mown hay, and so was once added to mattresses. Given these supine associations it seemed fitting that the only way to capture its essence was to lie down with it in the grass.

And lying down certainly reduces operator wobble, although there wasn’t much I could do about the summer breeze.  So I caught that too. And since I have yet to devise a ‘scratch and sniff’ widget, you must now use your imagination to summon a fragrance with subtle notes of gardenia plus a dash of fresh acacia honey. Mmmm. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a snooze coming on, borne away on a tsunami of sweet, golden, flowers. Happy dreams.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Inspired by Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: tsunami  Go here to see Jennifer’s fascinating miniature world, and other bloggers’ interpretations for OWPC.

I’m also linking this to Lucile de Godoy’s Photo Rehab at Bridging Lacunas. Please visit her and her community of photo bloggers for a great boost to your creativity.

Bird’s Eye View of Shela Village, Lamu

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This week at Thursday’s Special, Paula has asked us to interpret ‘a bird’s eye view’. I’m not sure that four storeys up in Shela’s Island Hotel  quite constitutes a bird’s eye view, but it’s as high as I’m going. I’ve written about our stay on Lamu in other posts. One thing I will say here is that we had a room that was ideal for someone as nosy as I am. Three sides were entirely available for nosiness, overlooking the centre of the village. I didn’t know which way to look first.

In the next photo you can see the village square with its donkey park under the thorn tree. There was only one vehicle on Lamu at the time of our visit – an aged Land Rover, and donkeys were used for all forms of land transportation. They were left under the tree until someone needed one to move something. In the bottom corner you can see blocks of quarried coral rag used for house building.



Please visit Paula at Thursday’s Special for more views.

Return to Windmill Hill: Of Grasshopper Stalking, Lady’s Bedstraw And Other Random Discoveries


Today I thought it was time to check on the floral happenings in our remnant of limestone meadow up on Windmill Hill. It’s a few weeks since I was last up there, and the spring flowers are giving way to summer species. Perhaps one of  the most pleasing finds were these drifts of Lady’s Bedstraw,  seen here below the windmill.

It is also called Lady’s Tresses, and  it smells of honeyed summer pasture. Once it would be gathered and dried and included with the straw that was used to fill mattresses. It was often chosen for the beds of pregnant women, so surrounding those in their confinement with soothing wafts of sweet hay scents.

I think this is a practice we could revive, not that we are allowed to harvest wild flowers. I’m envisaging now a pillow filled  with golden stems. Surely it would be just the thing to send us sleep-fractured souls back to dreamland. And even if it didn’t, it would make being wakeful a pleasure.


The spotted orchids  I first found last month for Meg are nearly over (by the way, you should see Meg’s sundews found in Australia’s  Stanthorpe granite country over at Snippetsandsnaps). But following on from the common spotted are the pyramidal orchids, which range in colour from lipstick pink to purple. I also discover from that these, like many orchids, require the presence of a particular fungus in the soil in order to flower.


I also discover from Richard Mabey’s treasure of a book, Flora Britannica,  that when the Victorian art critic, John Ruskin, learned that the name orchid derived from the Greek word orkhis  meaning testicle, he urged that the flower’s name be changed to wreathewort. Personally, I don’t think this any sort of improvement. The man was a prude. Besides, the reason that orchids are named after testicles is because their roots’ appearance do a pretty good impersonation of same. Doubtless this was why they were long considered a useful remedy for a lapsed libido – a herbal fancy and fallacy I imagine, so do  not try this at home.

While I was scrabbling around on my knees in the grass, thinking what strange things I have started doing since joining WordPress, I became distracted by a grasshopper. This is not the greatest shot. He is lurking on the leaves of greater knapweed, Centaurea scabiosa. Very well camouflaged I thought.



While I was down there, because believe me, once you get down on your knees you need to make the most of it, I also discovered some Lady’s Bedstraw caught inside a web. It looks like a shroud. You can just see the tiny spider due south of the flower:


And now here is one of Windmill Hill’s  more sinister-looking plant specimens, – the very upright prickly spires of Viper’s bugloss. Apparently the flower’s fruits resemble adders’ heads, and other names include adderwort and snake flower. As well as colonising limestone areas, you will also find it growing on chalky and industrially contaminated soils. Like other members of the Echium family, which includes borage and comfrey, it is attractive to bees.


And here’s another bee favourite – Wild Thyme:


Thyme is of course a must in the kitchen. It is also a common medicinal herb. All forms of the plant contain the volatile oil thymol, a powerful antiseptic, which is often included in cough mixtures. I use thyme (fresh or dried) steeped in hot water with honey and fresh lemon juice when I have a cold or cough.

And talking of thyme, it’s time to head for home. So I’ll leave you with one last view of the windmill and some more flowers named after testicles. Not that it’s in any way connected, but I had to lie down in the grass to take this shot – a fine way for the minuting secretary of Much Wenlock Civic Society to conduct herself. It was just as well there were none of the usual walkers and their dogs around for me to frighten:


This excursion, but naturally not the bit about the orchid’s etymology, was inspired by Jo’s Monday Walk. Please join her there for some fascinating rambles.

copyright 2105 Tish Farrell