This wasn’t supposed to happen. I was on a mission to declutter the house, which led me inevitably to the old seaman’s chest – that personal cess pit of file dumps; the place where all the research notes, photocopies, story drafts that won’t fit in the three office filing cabinets end up. In truth, this excess stuff weighs heavily on my psyche – my mental albatross.
Many times I have lifted out the boxes of Kenyan newspaper cuttings with a view to swift despatch. They date from 1992 to 2000, and are sorted into topics such as ‘forced marriage’, ‘female genital mutilation’, ‘street children’, ‘colonial residue’, ‘wildlife conservation’. There are articles on politics, land grabbing, the Kakamega gold rush, Maasai customs, Akamba myths, shape-shifting and witch finding. The period covered is one of great political change in Kenya – the World Bank impositions of structural adjustment and international pressure on the single party Moi regime to adopt multi-party politics Western-style. And there’s the catch. I can tell myself this cuttings file is of some historical importance. Is this not reason enough to keep it?
And the other reason? Well, it’s my source material, isn’t it? All the stories I have yet to write or finish off. How can I possibly throw out all this valuable stuff?
But still there’s the secret doubt. Quite a big niggle actually. Haven’t I hung on to it all because I doubt my own capacity to remember, and if I don’t remember, isn’t it too late to go back and mine this doggedly accumulated reference collection. Might I not function better without it? Liberate myself from the psychic albatross?
And so it was – in the midst of this endlessly circular argument, stacks of yellowing papers all over the floor that I opened a box and found this photograph. I don’t know how it missed being put in the album. It must have been taken in the mid-90s on a day’s safari to Tsavo West National Park. And now I see it, I remember taking the photograph. The waterholes are at the safari lodge, the red soil caught in the full flush of midday sunlight. You can just make out a herd of zebra. And in the background are the Chyulu Hills, still deemed volcanically active after a million and half years of eruptions.
However you look at it, this is a breathtaking vista – elemental Kenya. Priceless then?
The argument goes on. What is priceless, what is not. Doubtless the files will go back in the chest for another day of writerly self abuse. I’m glad I found the photo though.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
It’s the brief window of opportunity that comes when the wheat has been cut, and we Wenlockians can go in for a bit of unbridled scampering in the fields. Well, if not scampering exactly, at least walking up the hill behind the house for some fresh vistas of the town and its surroundings. I need to be quick. If past years are anything to go by, the ground will be harrowed and re-sown in the blink of an eye, so while I have the chance, I’m passing on some post-harvest views. I’ll also leave you with a paradox, because although we have good views around the town, within it there is an officially recognised deficiency in public open space; many of the footpaths that we use are permissive, that is to say, they are open only at the landowner’s discretion. In more ways than are often realised, feudal England, with its roots in patterns of Saxon landownership, still remains.
Here you can see three of the town’s medieval relics, from middle left to right: the priory ruins, the priory gate tower, and the parish church that was once part of the priory. The town grew up around the priory, its residents subject to its rule, both in terms of paying tithes and providing labour. The monastic domain was considerable, based on the possessions of the 7th century Saxon Abbess Milburga. Her lands extended several miles – beyond the River Severn and the Ironbridge Gorge and into Madeley in Telford in one direction, and to Broseley, near Bridgnorth in the other. She was also the daughter of a Mercian king, and the setting up of religious houses ruled by princesses appears to have been a common and cunning Saxon strategy for maintaining control over the territory claimed by their regional kingdoms. After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1542, the monastic estate was sold off to members of Henry VIII’s court and merchant opportunists. Today, most of the land around the town is still in the possession of two large landowners. We are however fortunate that a good stretch of Wenlock Edge is owned by the National Trust which provides everyone with free access to a very special place.
The Red House, and a ghostly farm labourer off for an evening pint at the George and Dragon Inn?
I’m old enough to remember the days when the post-harvest straw was stacked in teepee-like stooks, and the wheat grains had to be detached from their ears in a hulk-like threshing machine. The farmer whose house we rented when we lived in Cheshire, would have the itinerant threshing man park his contraption the other side of our garden wall. I remember a sense of menace when I looked out of the bedroom window and find it had arrived. Once in action, it would throb hideously all day, spewing out great storms of petrol fumes and wheat dust.
Didn’t Rumpelstiltskin spin this stuff into gold?
I mentioned that the wheat was being swept off the field on Tuesday afternoon. And as I’m actually rather impressed by seeing combine harvesters in action, and the dust they make, I took a few photos from the bedroom window. But when I looked at them later on screen, I was amused to see a shapely pair of legs nudged up against the combine driver’s jeans. Aaaah. Greater love hath no young woman than to spend the day out harvesting with her lad.
And for those who also have a yen for combine harvesters…
This week Paula wants to catch up on the photos we posted over the past two months. A quick trawl through the picture archive shows that my posts have been all over the place – both in space and in time: memories from our years living in Kenya, a trip to New York, more recent wanders in Wales, Derbyshire, Cornwall, and the nearby Shropshire hills, then allotment and garden shots around Wenlock. I’ve grouped them by colour:
And finally some monochrome:
Well, that was fun, Paula. Thank you!
Thursday’s Special: July-August recap Please call in at Paula’s for a photo-treat.
I often snap this view before I dive through the gap in the field hedge and into the allotment. I’ve said before how fascinated I am by the movement of weather beyond the brow of the hill. Sometimes I think it looks as unreal as a theatre backdrop, and especially so on blue-sky days. But as I am writing this, the sky is leaden, and the air full of chaff from the combine harvester as it thunders up and down the hill. Farm machinery these days is so over-sized and overbearing, the wheat cut and threshed in one process. The whole field will be cleared in an hour.
Anyway, that’s beside the point. This is an exercise in photo-editing, courtesy of Paula at Black & White Sunday. This week she asks us to show her a colour photo that has been transformed into monochrome – and ‘after and before’. Below is the original:
Please visit Paula at the link above for more afters and befores.
Much like this thistle down in the field behind the allotment gardens, I’m feeling wind-blown; swept off course somehow; as if I’ve woken from a Rip Van Winkle deep-sleep and found myself in another time. I’m not the only one either. Others I’ve spoken to feel equally unsettled and disorientated.
One moment, around mid-June we were having sun-shiny suppers out in the garden, the evenings still warm after sunset; summer stretching ahead and full of promise.
Next it was all change – to cool, wet and windy. It seems as if autumn has been here for weeks. The fields above the town are harvested and already ploughed. The still-standing wheat has a grey look as if it has been left in the field too long (or had too much Roundup). The apple trees are shedding apples, leaves are turning colour, and the Linden Walk has browning drifts of fallen lime tree seeds.
The question is: has autumn come to stay, or will there be another shot of summer just when we least expect it. In November maybe?
The Changing Seasons Please visit Max for his take on Norway’s changing season, and also to catch up with the challenge rules.
Well, it had to be done didn’t it. This week Ailsa’s theme is BEHIND, and this was the first photo I thought of, taken in the Maasai Mara years ago. It’s been a while I think since I last posted it, and bears a re-run.
Also as behinds go, you can’t get much bigger (or wrinklier for that matter) than jumbo-size, and the elephant babe looks so sweet, standing behind its mama. I thought everyone might like an aaaaah moment.
Here we have two of my passions-distractions for the price of one: growing stuff and an enduring yen for baskets. I’ll tell you about the latter in a moment. Here it is though – a personal treasure – bought when we were living in Zambia – a basket made by the Batonga people.
The Batonga, these days, live either side Lake Kariba (it forms the border between Southern Zambia and Northern Zimbabwe, but once they lived in the upland valleys along the Zambezi River. This was back in the days when their traditional homeland was not flooded by nearly two hundred miles of Lake Kariba. In the late 1950s the Zambezi was dammed in order to provide hydro-electricity for what were then the British colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.
Prior to their expulsion from their homeland, they lived by fishing, hunting, stock rearing and agriculture, and in fact had a subtle farming system which embraced both risk and caution. In other words, they exploited different ecological niches from the valley tops to the river flood plains. In the marginal upland areas they grew cow peas, ground nuts and different strains of millet and sorghum, reliable drought-resistant crops that ensured a living. On the flood plains they took a risk with water-hungry maize. If the river did not flood too badly and wash their crop away, then they would be in for a bumper harvest with surplus to sell. They also made use of the damp clefts of tributary streams in order to grow squashes. Doubtless their varieties produced much bigger specimens than my fist-sized munchkins.
So: they were a resourceful people, but deemed primitive by the colonial administrators because their possessions were few and made mostly from handy natural materials. Yet this paucity of paraphernalia had survival advantages too. When disaster struck – tempest, drought, raiders or epidemic, they could up sticks and start out afresh in a safer spot. They could not, however, escape the will of the colonial administration, or the rising flood waters that came with the building of Kariba Dam. They were moved from their ancestral lands against their will, and somehow, by all accounts, the British administration with little money set aside for the task, overlooked the need to make more than token restitution for the huge physical and spiritual loss of a displaced people. In effect they had become refugees in their own land. Meanwhile, the game department took great pains to rescue the wildlife that had become trapped on islands as the flood water backed up.
Back then, in 1959, the Batonga said the lake (by then the size of Wales) would take its revenge. At the time this seemed unlikely. The dam’s engineers had purposely built it on a bed of black basalt. But some fifty years on, it was discovered that the force of water down the spillways had undermined the dam, creating a huge crater. Repairs were badly needed to avoid collapse and a tsunami in Mozambique.
The BBC reported on this catastrophe-waiting-to-happen in 2014. And at last the repair work appears to be underway, scheduled to start last month at an estimated cost of nearly $300 million – funds courtesy of the EU, World Bank, African Development Bank and the Swedish government, and one key objective being to avoid a humanitarian disaster. In the meantime one can only wonder how the Batonga people have been getting along all these years, and whether their communities actually have access to the electricity supply for which they were uprooted. I’m guessing they may not. But if you want to lend them some support you can buy their baskets on-line HERE
Regular Random Please visit Desley Jane for the challenge rules. and see her own five minute photo-shoot.