Melting in Mombasa


The sticky humidity of Kenya’s coast is a shock to the system after Nairobi’s airy upland plains  where, even in the hot season, temperatures rarely rise above the low 80s F.  Back in our day, when were travelling the Mombasa Highway quite often, the road south comprised 300 miles of ragged tarmac that descended in stages through nearly 6,000 feet – from highland plains to lowland plains, and thence through the rugged thorn scrub of the waterless Taru Desert, until the final drop down to the Indian Ocean. It was like plunging into a warm bath, the air thick with sea smell and frangipani blossoms.


During the rains, large sections of highway were often washed out, sometimes with horrendous chasms opening up. In the dry season the potholes through Kibwezi were filled with sand like mini deserts. And if we found ourselves stuck behind a fume-belching truck, we could travel many miles before finding a stretch of road with a sufficient tarmac on which to overtake it.

None of this stopped us from setting out though. You simply had to be prepared for anything, and this could include a brooding big Cape Buffalo holding the road hostage through Tsavo.  And now here’s an excerpt from the diary I kept, and just found loitering in my filing cabinet:


Kenya Diary 30th August 1994

It was raining and steamy when we arrived in Mombasa at lunch time. The streets were jammed with hooting traffic, and there were vast rain lakes everywhere. The pavements were brilliant red with row upon row of ripe tomatoes, laid out by  the Swahili women  in their black buibuis.  Everywhere the roads rang with the chink-chink of the metal washer rattles on the delivery guys’ handcarts. The carts were piled high with everything and anything: crates of sodas, cooking oil, jerrycans of water, baskets of pineapples, coconuts, mattresses, a wardrobe. It struck me that Mombasa feels so different to much of inland Kenya it might as well be another country.

For once we drove straight onto the Likoni Ferry without the usual sweaty wait in a tail-back of trucks and safari vans. Soon we were bowling along the coast road to Tanzania, moving between plantations of coconut palms that bowed with the sea breeze, flitting past  tiny white-painted mosques  and palm thatched homes built from coral rag. Here it  was  the skyline not the pavements that was a brilliant red: all the roadside Nandi flame trees were in flower, fist-sized blooms glowing like coals against a stormy sky.

By two thirty we were sitting down at a Tiwi beach bar, eating spaghetti and homemade tomato sauce while the rain drove in suddenly across the reef, drumming on the thatch. The sticky heat dissolved in the wind and the ocean took on a mean and steely look, and roared. It all seemed very Somerset Maugham, that is if one overlooked the presence of the spaghetti.



copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Jennifer Nichole Wells OWPC: humid

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.

Some don’t like it wet, and a case of sub-teen rebellion big cat style

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First off I should say these aren’t the best of  photos. They were taken on a dullish, August day in the Maasai Mara, and out of the back of a dusty Land Rover. But it’s a nice little glimpse of ‘I’m-a-big-boy-now’ rebellion of the lion kind.

It was the she-lion’s odd behaviour that attracted our attention. We drove towards the swamp to see what was going on. The rest of the Marsh Pride was lying up in the long grass a good half mile away, but here was a lone adult female walking about in a distracted manner, and with no attempt at concealment. She was also calling…and looking…

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And calling…

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We drove around the swamp. And then we could see what she couldn’t…

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Junior. He, in fine nonchalant style, was busy exploring. He could hear Mom all right, but he was darned if he would show himself. In fact he just kept going…


…in the opposite direction…

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Ooops! Not looking where we were going…

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But it gave him a good excuse: “Was just getting a drink of water, Mom.”

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We left them to find one another, although I reckon Junior was in for a big cuff round the ears. Meanwhile, here’s the big lion, he was thinking he already was – Dad.

Marsh Pride male 3


This post was inspired, somewhat tangentially, by Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: wet Drop in to her blog to see other bloggers’ responses.

Autumn weather in June? What’s going on?


For those like me, who live in the northern hemisphere, it might seem a touch perverse to post a photo of autumn leaves just as summer is expected. But then, of course, so many fellow bloggers south of the equator are heading into winter, so this is for you. Seasons greetings and all that.

Besides which, here in the UK most of us have been having autumn, if not downright winter weather for weeks now. June arrived with Met Office warnings of gales, plus torrential downpours. As I write,  the sky is filling again with fat rain clouds…

Enough already. Feelings of dryness are definitely required at Sheinton Street. I anyway love the spicy scent of autumn leaves, and especially crispy sweet chestnut ones, which these mostly are.

There is something mesmerizing about that sundried smell that opens up pathways to the past: forgotten houses, empty rooms, sun bleached floorboards, old cupboards and drawers exhaling remnant whiffs of their former contents, the sweet odour of decay. It’s all most beguiling, and hard to know if these are shreds of a remembered past, or some parallel universe barely glimpsed. Shall we take a ‘leaf’ from Alice Through the Looking Glass, and step through…?

Perhaps another day. The leaves are Welsh ones by the way. There were caught last year on a gloriously dry September afternoon, as we walked in a dream on the Dol Idris Path below the great  mountain of Cader Idris.  You can read about that walk here.

But now for the soundtrack to the photo, a song that I’ve loved since my first years on the planet Autumn Leaves/ Les feuilles mortes  sung here by the one and only Yves Montand. Oh, the tristesse:

Related: Now that summer’s done, we take the Dol Idris Path…

Jennifer Nichole Wells OWPC: dry   Go here for some more dry posts

Clouds over Kenya


This probably is not the kind of scene most people associate with Africa. It looks more like a stretch of bleak English moorland in December. Anyway Kenya it is, and it was taken one August in a Maasai group ranch conservancy, bordering the Maasai Mara National Park.

May to September is East Africa’s winter, and the skies are often overcast and leaden. The nights, and even the days can be chilly. Kenya, anyway, covers many of the world’s climatic zones either horizontally or vertically – from the hot and arid Northern District, bordering Ethiopia and Somalia, to the alpine heights of Mount Kenya with its glacial peaks. There are also the airy, and rarely too hot, highland plains around Nairobi, and the steamy humidity of the Mombasa coastal strip to the south.

Much of the nation’s weather is determined by the cycle of Indian Ocean monsoon winds. These, unless disrupted by El Nino effects, bring two seasons of rain – the long rains in March to May, and the short rains in November-December. In between, many areas receive little or no rain. Western Kenya, however, receives more regular rainfall courtesy of Lake Victoria Nyanza which makes its own weather.  Meanwhile in the fertile Central Highlands above Nairobi, altitude and forest combine to make June and July the season of heavy mists. It’s all a bit dreary, but the mist does have its uses – for instance, ripening the maize crops for the August harvest.

napier grass on the Rift

Smallholder farms and July mists in the Kikuyu highlands, north of Nairobi


In the late 1990s Team Farrell was often out and about in the Kikuyu highlands, visiting smallholder farms. And the reason we were doing this in the fog season was because the Team Leader, aka Graham, was – besides running an agricultural crop protection project on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government – gathering data for his doctoral thesis on smut. If you want to know more about our smut forays (of the plant variety that is) your can find out more HERE.

Rift lane after July downpour

Rural road after an unseasonal July downpour. Poor communications embed poverty, making it hard for farmers to get produce to market before it spoils.


tea fields and workers' houses

Lowering skies over Limuru’s tea gardens with tea pickers’ housing.


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Kikuyu farmhouse.


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Wintery fields in Muranga where the Del Monte pineapples grow.


And just sometimes, even on the gloomiest Kenyan winter’s day, the sun breaks through the clouds:

Kikuyu child 3


Jennifer Nichole Wells OWPC: cloudy     Go here for more bloggers’ cloudy offerings.

Lions before the storm



Before the storm we fall in with lion –

six scions out from the pride.

Unmaned, cub-spotted, they slump amongst thorns,

smug in their big-cat skins.

They know we’re here.

So now we’re adrift on the storm’s swell:

coming like lambs to lay down with lions?

Caught in their lure we listen to their breathing;

the rise and fall of soft flanks.

Our breath marks time.

Waiting – till a drift of rainfall stirs them.

Watching – till they they rise to make their kill.



copyright 2015 Tish Farrell


Jennifer Nichole Wells: OWPC Storm

Sun Setting Over Wenlock Edge ~ Or Did The Earth Move?


From my house I often watch the late-day sun slip behind the Edge. But which of us is moving: me, or the sun? It’s the sort of displacement-activity question I ask myself when I should be doing something more constructive. It also makes me think about the Edge, the fact that something so apparently static is, of itself, an embodiment of movement; a geological exemplar of extreme process and change.

The limestone ridge on whose foothills we Wenlockians dwell, is 425 million years old. It runs for some twenty miles while rising up to three hundred feet above the land.  And so it goes without saying that a structure of this size cannot help but evoke a sense of monumental immobility.

How can it  move?

Yet move it has, and move it does, although these days not on quite the colossal scale of the Silurian Age when it was formed.  Its constituent parts, the sea-creature fossils that have fascinated the world’s geologists enough to earn them their own Wenlock Epoch, clearly indicate that our Edge is neither where it was, nor what it was in the aeons before fish were invented.

In fact during the Silurian era, and some 200 hundred million years before one cosmic hint of a Stegosaurus or Diplodocus was abroad, the strata that would become Wenlock Edge were quietly forming. Layers of dead and decomposing corals, sponges, sea lilies and molluscs were building up beneath a shallow tropical sea, and in a location somewhere off present-day East Africa and well south of the Equator.

Today, however, this former sea bed is an up-tilted escarpment, a steeply wooded ridgeway of ash, birch, hazel and oak trees. It bisects a temperate, rural Shropshire in the middle of England, which as most people know, is and often feels hugely north of the Equator. The power of tectonic shift and uplift is thus truly marvellous.

For the last couple of millennia, though, it has been humans who have been responsible for the Edge’s biggest movement. They have hacked, drilled, and blasted out the limestone with dogged persistence. At first the spoil would have been carried away on packhorses, then on carts, and finally by train and truck to wherever it was needed. Chunks of fossil sea bed hauled off to build grand monastic houses, feudal mansions, churches and cottages; limestone mortar to make them weather-tight; limestone to burn to make quick-lime for fertilizer; crushed limestone to pour into the top of massive blast furnaces, and so draw the impurities from smelting iron.


One of the many old lime burning kilns on Wenlock Edge


In such ways did Wenlock’s broadcast and reconstituted Edge come to play its part in Britain’s Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. Yet way before this, in the late 600s AD of Saxon times, it probably also gave us our curious sounding name. In those days it was the habit to paint the early Christian religious houses with lime-wash so they glowed luminously white against surrounding terrain.  It was also around this time that Milburga, daughter of a Mercian king, became abbess of a dual monastic house of monks and nuns that stood where the town’s parish church now stands .  Gwen/Wen means white, and Loc/Lock means chapel or religious house. So there you have it – Wenlock – the place of the white church.

In more recent times, aggregates for highway construction have been the Edge-product of choice, and supplies are still outstanding in one of the quarries. At intervals convoys of motorway construction trucks come rattling through the town to fill up – and all this so more and more traffic can rush about the place.

The mopping up of the aggregates marks the end of quarrying,  although the quarries themselves have now been occupied by other industries  – garden fencing  and woodchip fuel producers, paint and packaging companies – all taking advantage of the huge spaces left behind by the evacuated limestone.



Yet where the old workings and exploded cliff faces have been left to themselves, there are signs that the vegetation is reasserting itself, slowly extending the habitat for the Edge residents: deer, badgers, hares, weasels and mice.

I find the old quarries fascinating in a  morbid, Edgar Allan Poe-ish kind of way. Ravens like to nest there for one thing, which adds to their brooding allure. However, if you turn your back on the quarries, and look the other way, through breaks in the tree cover, you will see broad sweeps of Shropshire’s hills and farmland. And this, for most people, is the main reason why the twenty-mile-long vantage point is one of the county’s great treasures. The National Trust who own a long stretch of the wooded slopes, and manage the woods and paths, want to ensure it remains that way – a valued public resource.


This  view looks towards the Welsh borders and, in the past, would have been gazed on by writers such as Thomas Hardy and Henry James, and by Africa’s darkest explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, all of whom were, at various times, guests of the Milnes-Gaskells, Much Wenlock’s erstwhile gentry who lived in the Prior’s House at Wenlock Abbey. The Milnes-Gaskells were good hosts and tour guides and made sure that their visitors always took in the best views.

On reflection, though, I’d say that this particular fieldscape would have looked very different a good century ago – smaller fields, many more hedges and trees back then. Much bigger trees too, for all the huge oaks were culled by the late nineteenth century, and those of us alive today have never seen their like other than in old photos, where their magnificence has been felled and stacked up, ready to serve some apparently pressing human purpose.

Life for ordinary people would have been tough too – with many more labourers working the land, horses pulling ploughs, vistas of scenic rusticity that did not fool Thomas Hardy for one moment. He is said to have been mightily appalled by the impoverished state of Wenlock’s workers.


And so back to the setting sun/moving earth where this post began. The Edge then, is still in motion, although mostly in ways not much noticed by us. The limestone scarps are degrading. Rock becoming soil and mixing with the leaf mould to create new niches and microclimates, the old lime kilns, moss and ivy coated, weathering into the earth, the quarry scars and debris gradually being colonised by trees and plants.

Then there are the kinds of movement that I observe day after day behind our house: the march of clouds, weather; the change of light, dawn , dusk, the stars, the seasons, the rooks and jackdaws going out, and coming home. Everything shifting, transforming, recycling as the earth rotates around the sun. I find that thought – the revolving planet and the endless motion of its life forms – very joy-making. It is good to stand still and watch, and especially as the sun sets, or the earth moves.



Rooks and jackdaws coming home


copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Jennifer Nichole Wells: sun


The Monkeys’ Wedding: where rain meets sun


Photo copyright 2015 Tish Farrell. Art copyright Kathleen Collins Howell

The Monkeys’ Wedding  was my first children’s short story. I wrote it while we were living in Zambia (see Letters from Lusaka 1 & 2) . It was also the first piece of work accepted for publication. This stroke of luck was due to my good friend, artist and illustrator, Kathleen Howell. At the time she was Professor of Children’s Illustration at SUNY Buffalo, and had received several freelance commissions from America’s well beloved children’s magazine group, Cricket.

Unbeknownst to me she had sent a copy of my story to the then Art Director. He liked it and, after much editing, I received a contract. Time passed. Quite a lot of time in fact. Things, as I was to learn from future contracts, can move slowly at Cricket Magazine. They like to do their best by their writers and illustrators, and in each monthly edition of their magazines, combines submissions that complement one another, or follow a theme. In the meantime, Kathy said she would like to illustrate it, and finally in 2001, some 7 years after I’d written it, the story saw the light of day in Spider Magazine. It was also given a re-run in 2009.

The thing that sparked the story in the first place was the colloquial expression ‘a monkeys’ wedding’. It is possibly of Zulu origin, and I found it in my South African Pocket Oxford Dictionary, the only dictionary I could find to buy in Lusaka. (There were hardly any books in Zambia in the early 1990s).  The  phrase means simultaneous sunshine and rain, and I was so pleased to discover it, I set about creating my own folk story to explain it.

And so evolved the humorous tale of the monkey chief who was about to marry off his daughter, but made the tactical error of inviting everyone except Rain to the wedding.  Rain, in a big sulk, then drenches the forest for days. Something has to be done, or the wedding will be a wash-out.


Copyright 2001 Spider Magazine: August 2001 and September 2009


It’s interesting re-reading the text some 20 years on. I probably wouldn’t write it quite this way now, but Kathy’s illustrations are still brilliant. The top photo is some of her original artwork done with mixed media collage.

And now here’s a photo of an actual ‘monkeys’ wedding’ taken at Hunter’s Lodge, Kiboko, in Kenya during a sudden brief and sunny deluge. This place, with its many vervet monkeys, was also a source of inspiration for the story. Aaah. Happy days of finding monkeys under the bed, or rifling through my bag.

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

St. Peter’s Church by Night



These photos of St. Peter’s Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton were taken on a winter’s night using an automatic setting. When I was editing them in Photo Gallery, I simply increased the exposure on the histogram, and this is what emerged. I like the way the solid stone building not only lacks colour but also substance. So thanks to Jennifer for the interesting challenge of eigengrau: “intrinsic grey” or the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness. This is my stab at conjuring it.


Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: Eigengrau