Thursday’s Special ~ Being Serially Arrested In Wales

This week Paula’s Pick A Word  challenge is giving me the chance to post more views from our March trip to the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Projecting, arresting, pastoral, convex and communal are the prompts, and this distant shot of snow-dusted mountains pretty much covers the first three. However, I won’t let that stop me.

Arresting is my word of choice for all the following images; Wales was at  its magical, magnificent best – from the glittering waters of the River Conwy to the surreal towers and ramparts of Conwy Castle. It made you want to burst into song. Cue: Land of My Fathers, the Welsh National Anthem, which you can join in with at the end, and so definitely cover the communal. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak Welsh; humming will do. Besides, there is nothing quite like the quality of Welsh singing voices.

Also look out for Thomas Telford’s amazing suspension bridge in the next shot of Conwy Castle. It was built between 1824-26 to improve access between Holyhead on Anglesey and Chester, and was also part of Telford’s larger road and bridge improvement scheme to enable swift and safer travel to London for Irish Members of Parliament. A triumph, then, in both function and form.

The castle was built between 1283 and 1289, and is another of Edward I’s overbearing edifices to oppress the Welsh. Not only did he invade, he also cleared out the monks who occupied the site and set about building both a fortress and a model town below it, the latter confined by massive defences. Today, these walls still surround the town, and you can walk around them, though I should issue a warning: the wall-top walk is not for the faint-hearted or those prone to vertigo. But if you don’t mind heights, they provide striking views in every quarter.

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A few miles upstream from Conwy is the market town of Llanrwst. It is claimed that in 1947 its town council made an unsuccessful attempt to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council as an independent Welsh state. One has to admire this piece of Celtic chutzpah. I’m sorry they did not succeed. P1070238

Anyway, one of the present day arresting features of Llanrwst is this bridge, the Pont Fawr or Great Bridge. It was built in 1638 and still cars drive over it. There are other names too – the Shaking Bridge – because if you tap the central parapet the whole structure vibrates, and also Pont y Rhegi – bridge of swearing, explained by the fact that the carriageway is too narrow for vehicles to pass, and the height of the central arch too steep for forward visibility,meaning that everyone meets in the middle and this happens…!&?#!

The view through the central arch shows the ground on which the National Eisteddfod was held in 1989. The town is currently campaigning for a return of this annual extravaganza of Welsh culture in 2019. Which is a good point to bring on the choir. Croeso – welcome!

So Easy To Be Green After The Rains In Kenya’s Great Rift

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It is hard for many of us to imagine living in lands that have rain only in given seasons with little or none in between. In Kenya, in theory at least, the long rains come during March and April, and the short rains between October and December. All depends on the movement of the Indian Ocean monsoon winds, and long before awareness of serious climate change,  Africa’s rainy seasons were known to be fickle.

So: the arrival of timely rains to plant or ripen crops is matter of survival  for most rural households. Only 15% of the country’s land is fertile enough and receives sufficient rain to support agriculture, and most of this is cultivated by smallholder farmers, women for the most part, while their husbands go to the towns to earn cash to buy stuff – medicine, fertilisers, stone to build a house etc.

The second photo was taken just north of Nairobi, from one of the Great Rift view-points looking over the smallholder farming community of Escarpment. The farms here were originally a series of single 12 acre lots, distributed by the British administration around 1951. I’m not sure what prompted this land hand-out to Africans, or how  the beneficiaries were chosen, or if they had to buy the land, although that seems unlikely as Africans were not allowed to own land as individuals. By then the native reserves, the only places where indigenous people could farm, were more than overcrowded. Land shortage, especially within the Kikuyu reserves, meant that the marriageable generation could not marry for lack of farm plots, and this was one of the main drivers of the Land Freedom Uprising of 1952 – aka Mau Mau.

When we visited Escarpment during  Graham’s Napier Grass smut survey, Njonjo, our driver-guide played host, since this was where he had his own farmstead. He told us that his family’s 12 acre plot had been so subdivided (from father to sons according to custom) that he only had a quarter of an acre. He proudly showed it to us anyway, with his good crop of maize, and said it adjoined his brother’s plot.

Of course there comes a point when further subdivision is pointless, and there is not enough ground to support even the smallest family. Nearer the city such communities have turned ancestral farm land into room rental land, and erstwhile family gardens are now part of the city perimeter slum sprawl. It’s how it goes. As I’ve said in an earlier post, the British left their constructs of Crown land, landed gentry land ownership and native reserves well embedded when they so ‘graciously’ handed Kenya back to Kenyans, and made them pay for it too, thus creating a great big debt that was only paid off in recent times.

British feudal notions about land ownership never did fit with the more communally minded African ideas about land usage and proprietorship, although they certainly came to suit the current ruling elite, a family that has hung on to power (one way another) since the British bestowed it upon them in 1963.  Let us hope we manage the exit from Europe with more wisdom. Much as we Brits like to think we went around civilising the world, we also left a lot of skeletons in cupboards when we beat our retreat.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Daily Post Photo Challenge: It is easy being green

 

Thursdays Special ~ Winding Our Way Round Kingsand and Cawsand With Some Pirate Tales Thrown In

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The meandering streets of Kingsand and Cawsand were all but deserted when we went wandering there one winter’s afternoon. The twinned  villages fringe adjoining bays, clinging to the hillside above the Tamar Estuary in south east Cornwall. The river marks the county boundary – Devon, and the port city of Plymouth to the north, Cornwall to the south.

The communities of these rugged shores run together so it’s hard to know when you have left one and entered the other. They have always looked to the sea for a living, although these days this is more about providing seaside holidays for outsiders. The place had a determinedly deserted air during our December visit. Many of the houses are now second homes; unoccupied out of season.

Once, though, it would have been a teeming place – a thriving fishing community from the medieval period, and the centre of the pilchard trade from the early 16th century. You can still see the remains of the fish cellars, or ‘pilchard palaces’ that were built along the shore north of Kingsand. These were for the storage and processing of fish, and there’s a surviving example, the red sandstone building, on the far right of the next photo.

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Smuggling was the other big business – its heyday running through the 1700s and into the 1800s. The place was a smuggler’s haven in fact – with some fifty vessels dedicated to the nefarious trade in contraband liquor.

And then there were the pirates. In 1604 one especially notorious rogue, a Kent man called John Ward,  upped the stakes of his earlier career as a privateer, and decided to join forces with the Barbary pirates of North Africa. He stole a French merchant ship off the Scilly Isles and headed for Cawsand, even then a well known centre for Cornish smuggling.  Mooring in the bay there, Ward went ashore and set about recruiting local smugglers to join his enterprise as a Barbary pirate.

The Barbary corsairs were slavers, mostly North Africans from Algiers, Tripoli and Tunis, but there were Dutch and Englishmen operating with them too. They terrorised Britain’s south west shores for 300 years, snatching people from their homes. By 1626 there around 60 Barbary men-of-war preying on communities of the Devon and Cornish coasts, and attacks were almost a daily event. A parliamentary committee of 1645 established that there were at least 3,000 English men, women and children held captive in Algiers. It was only in 1816 that combined British and Dutch forces ended their power, at which time four thousand Christian slaves were said to have been liberated.

As for Ward, he and his happy band of recruits wormed their way in with governor of Tunis, he who had made that city rich by providing a haven for pirates and taking a cut of their loot in goods and captives. Ward captured many ships, and directed his own pirate fleet. Then built himself a palace with his ill gotten gains and lived a life of drinking, gaming and swearing, to name the least of the vices he apparently indulged in. One wonders what happened to his Cawsand recruits. Did they ever go home? Ward himself gave up piracy, got married and took to raising chickens. He died of plague in Tunis 1622.

And now, after that little diversion, some more turny-twisty byways and shorelines from Kingsand and Cawsand, accompanied always by the sea’s ebb and flow on the nearby rocks, and the cries of gulls:

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Thursday’s Special: winding.  Please visit Paula to see her astonishing interpretation of this week’s theme.

Sunset On Desert Sands ~ And Escaping From Kenya

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It is a kind of alchemy. As the sun sets, and its glow flows out across the desert, the dunes that in the full light of day had been dun coloured, inert, dull even, transform into waves of molten copper.

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To drive into the desert in late afternoon was blissful. The emptiness. And more emptiness. AND NO PEOPLE. We had come to Dubai for a break from Nairobi living. Sometimes life there could become too nerve-fraying. During the Moi era, security was always an issue in Kenya. Whenever the political temperature heated up – which was often during the 1990s’ donor push for multi-party democracy – so the crime wave spiked. It was mostly white collar crime too – run by crooked lawyers, senior officials and cops – all people who should know better.

Car-jacking was a speciality, and the diplomatic and aid community were particular targets with their newly imported 4 x 4s that were shipped in with each fresh posting. So it was that High Commission cocktail party talk mostly involved expats’ tales of having their vehicles stolen in hair-raising scenarios, usually by men with AK47s who had followed them into their driveways as they were returning home. Then there were the stories from Graham’s Kenyan colleagues. If they were driving project vehicles they would be car-jacked AND taken hostage for hours on end. We never did understand why car-jackers did this – driving around the city for hours until they finally decided to dump the unfortunate hostage in some god-forsaken wasteland.

Then there were aggravations such as coming home from a four-day seminar to find the house without electricity and the freezer dripping into the hall. In our absence some officious meter reader had been let into the property to read the meter. He misidentified our house number and claimed we had not paid our electricity bill. He then went off with our house fuses, and it  took a week of hideous argy bargy with closed-minded officialdom to have the power restored.

They claimed they had never heard of a meter man taking the fuses with him. Usually, they said, he would simply hide them somewhere handy, to be reinstated once the bill had been paid. In the meantime, nothing in our house worked since everything was electric. And all the security devices which the High Commission insisted we had, pretty much useless.

We have paid our bill, we kept saying to the electricity men. We have the receipt. These were the wrong words. Kitu kidogo were the right words. A little something. But as we didn’t play, we had to wait. Eventually a couple of very pleasant engineers took pity on us, and called in to see what was going on. After remonstrating at the lack of fuses as if this was our fault, they decided to make some new ones, standing on the kitchen stoop by the fuse box, winding wire round spools while admiring my crop of Tuscan kale, a variety they had never seen before but were much taken with. It was nice to have the lights back on. Playing scrabble by candle-light might seem vaguely romantic, but it wasn’t really, not after the first night.

And on top of the power-out dilemma, the weather had been vile – an El Nino special of weeks of endless torrential rain – people drowned, homes and whole villages washed away, impassable roads, the place unnaturally cold and grey and impossibly WET. It made us realise that we had very little to complain of. At least we had a roof over our head, and it only leaked a bit in the sitting-room corner.

But then the long wet spell next promoted an outbreak of ‘Nairobi Fly’ or Nairobi Eye – a rove beetle that causes extremely painful skin conditions if you happen to brush it away with too much enthusiasm, and then use the same hand when touching some area of bare flesh. For a time the whole city seemed under siege from this nasty little bug, the press burbling with horror stories of men whose private parts had become horribly inflamed due to some inadvertent contact. (Er, hem).

So it was good to fly away. It was good to spend a night in the desert even if our Tanzanian guide did lie in the back of the 4 x 4 with the door open and snore all night. It was good to get up at dawn to a bright, crisp day and walk alone through the dunes, and to see for miles and miles, without a soul in sight, only the distant blue spine of Oman’s El Hajar Mountains. It made the spirits soar, all that aloneness, as if you could face anything, though a month there might have truly done the trick.

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P.S. In case you are wondering, the green areas in the last photo are plots of alfalfa – high octane fodder for Dubai’s racing camels which are also reared in the desert on small camel farms.

copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

Daily Post Photo Challenge: Atop

Sunday Solution to Saturday Guess The Place ~ It’s The Trossachs!

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And more specifically it is a view of Loch Katrine taken from the summit of a ‘small mountain’ Ben A’an. So Jo was closest guesser with Loch Lomond, which is the next big loch westwards – she is definitely a woman who knows her landscapes. But thanks to all for playing along with yesterday’s photo quiz. And since I’m guessing that many of you have no idea where The Trossachs National Park is, here’s a map. The area is basically north of Glasgow and west of Stirling, and so not even in the Scottish Highlands despite all the beguiling peaks in the photo.

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Map: Eric Gabba (Sting)/Wikipedia CC-BY-SA 4.0

For more about The Trossachs from a local, see this article by Bill Kasman.

Thursdays Special ~ Great Zimbabwe Re-Scanned

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I was very pleased that this Thursday’s Special from Paula is another Traces of the Past challenge. I spent yesterday afternoon attempting to scan these photos of Great Zimbabwe. I’ve shown other versions of these images before – scanned from negatives, but either I or the scanner was on the blink, and I wasn’t very happy with the results. Then the scanner broke altogether (it was a whizzo Nikon one too), and that was that.

So yesterday I had a go with some of the original prints on the flat-bed scanner, which then led to a lot of dust-speck removing  – very tedious.

This is the best I’ve been able to do. The first shot shows the Great Enclosure, and the top of the mysterious stone tower within. The sci-fi plants on the left are giant aloes.

This next shot is taken from the Hill site, where archaeologists have discovered gold and other metal working enclaves.

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It gives a good sense of the surrounding terrain, although in the heyday of Great Zimbabwe, the environs may well have been a good deal more lush. The citizens’ domestic economy revolved around cattle herding, and indeed, one of the theories for the city’s demise in the C15th is over-grazing. But I’m sure there was more to it than that.

Great Zimbabwe was part of an extensive trade network throughout the period equivalent to Europe’s early Middle Ages. Its  merchants trekked in caravans to the Mozambique coast, taking gold and ivory to trade with Arab dhow merchants of the Swahili seaboard cities. It is very possible, then, that the gold floating around Europe and the Middle East in Crusader times came from Great Zimbabwe. In other words, it was not the remote settlement it may seem today; it was strongly connected to the Old World’s wheeler-dealer networks. Nor was it the only great African city state in southern Africa. So much of the continent’s human history remains to be discovered and told; historian Basil Davidson made a good start, though most of his works may be out of print now. And it was Peter Garlake who wrote the classic work on Great Zimbabwe (1973).

I only wish I’d taken more photos while I was there. We were being distracted by a travelling companion who was intent on not noticing that we were visiting one of the world’s most fascinating archaeological sites. Ah well. Anyway, looking at these photos now, it all looks very dreamlike, and that’s how it felt at the time.

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But I’ll leave you with a few hard facts. Great Zimbabwe was built and lived in by Shona people between 1000 and 1500. The enclosure walls, though often monumental, were seemingly never defensive. The entrances are simply open, undefended spaces. The stone came from the nearby granite hills, and was cut and laid without mortar. The walls vary from 4 to 17 feet in width with some reaching over 30 feet in height. It is, in short, a very amazing place, and I have written other posts with more of the history.

But oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if these walls could speak and tell us their stories!

Thursday’s Special

Thursdays Special ~ A Commanding Presence

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It’s not easy taking a photo of a moving lion, and for all sorts of reasons – not least, the excitement. This is another shot of one of the members of the Maasai Mara’s celebrity Marsh Pride. I think that confident stride definitely says ‘I’m in charge here’. And just look at the size of those front paws! Scarily impressive even in this somewhat aged photo.

We visited the Maasai Mara only three times while we were living in Kenya, but every trip there delivered many breath-taking moments. We were lucky too. Kenyan wildlife guides are among the world’s best – so generous in the sharing of their knowledge – whether of grasses and dung beetles or leopards and rock pythons.

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Desert Date  and the Oloololo Escarpment ~ indelible memory Mara-style

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This week at Lost in Translation, Paula’s  March Pick A Word includes five word prompts: commanding, coarse, gibbous, incremental, indelible. Please see her interpretations and be inspired.

Interesting The Things Your Stats Tell You

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Actually this is probably just an excuse to post yet again this very old photo of me at Great Zimbabwe. We were living in Lusaka, Zambia at the time, Graham on a year’s attachment to the European Delegation, in charge of food aid distribution. You can read that story at the link.

Towards the end of this posting we drove down to Zimbabwe, and spent a couple of weeks touring around. Back in the 1990s it was a fabulous country to visit. We simply followed our noses, and drove on near empty, but well-kept roads, one of which brought us at last to Great Zimbabwe. We pretty much had the place to ourselves too. It was astonishing.

Anyway my stats of the last few days suggest to me that somewhere in the U.S. a bunch of students has been given a Great Zimbabwe assignment. I know this because they’re all opening a post I wrote 3 years and 2 blog themes ago: Abandoned: Great Zimbabwe. This happens periodically, although sometimes it’s Zimbabwean students searching for material on why the place was abandoned. It’s one of my perennial posts – not so much viral as chronic. Every year the traffic has doubled. Last year 1,311 people dropped in there.

But nothing gets as much traffic as my post on Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hatton. Caught Inside A Kikuyu Garden. This was also written three years ago, and so far has clocked up 12,715 views. Of course I have no way of knowing if all these people have actually read the piece, but I find it intriguing. I also sometimes wonder what would happen if I had a ‘Karen and Denys’ blog, and didn’t bother to post anything else. Funny old activity – blogging.

Giraffes And Other Animals ~ Graceful In Their Own Unique Way

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This week’s Daily Post photo prompt induced a ‘long ago when we lived in Africa’ moment, and thus a nostalgic trawl through the old photo files. It was giraffes I first thought of. They may seem an ungainly composite of various creatures, but to see them moving across the plains is a sight that cannot be forgotten. They lilt in time to some inner rhythm of their own. This is more apparent when you see several moving together. And you wonder what is this giraffe music, beyond your hearing, that they stride forth to with such synchronicity?

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Some of the plains’ song you can hear of course – the wheesh of dry grasses, the ceaseless koo-kroo-ing of collared doves, the crickets’ whine. And as you scan the bush country, looking for any signs of wildlife, these are the sounds that fill your head. The sun is hot on your scalp, the light too bright, and the spicy scent of thorn trees too rich for the over-sensitive. But just when you think all the game has gone and there’s nothing more to see, magic happens:

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This cheetah mother with six half-grown cubs, walked out of the undergrowth beside the park track. When we stopped the car to watch she didn’t so much as blink at us. It seemed we were the least of her problems. She was trying to make the cubs stay in one place while she went off to hunt. But they were not having it.

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No sooner had mama parked them and moved out sight, than one (there always has to be one) goaded the obedient ones out of the cover that had sheltered them until they all decided to follow.

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In the end, mama gave it up as a bad job, and gathered the offspring and disappeared into the bush. It is a mystery how she had ever managed to rear so many teenage cubs.

These photos, sadly ageing, were all taken in Nairobi National Park, a gem of a park that borders the city. It covers only 46 square miles, but when we lived In Nairobi during the 1990s the wildlife corridor to the south was still open, allowing for seasonal migration. Today there are all kinds of pressures from one of the fastest growing conurbations in Africa – the need for farm land and for better transport links. It’s a thorny issue however you look at it – wildlife versus humans: probably no happy solution; gracefulness seems not to be a natural human trait.

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copyright 2017 Tish Farrell

 

Daily Post Photo Challenge Graceful

Moving Pictures ~ Wales Through The Windscreen

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Nowhere does brooding gloom like Wales on a wet winter’s day. This happenstance shot was taken on New Year’s Eve as we were motoring home from Anglesey. I’d propped my camera briefly on the car dashboard as we’d headed through the mountain pass to Capel Curig. Then randomly pressed the shutter and so caught the cyclist.

This week at Lost in Translation Paula asks us to show her ‘unfocused’. She kindly says she doesn’t mind ‘happy accidents’, so here is mine.