Carpe diem. Kenya, here we come.

Once you’ve lived in Africa, it stays in your heart and blood. It implants itself in your soul like a magnet that is forever pulling you back, and wherever you may be, there is always a part of you longing for the vast horizons, the unforgettable smell of the rains breaking, the smiles of the people, the beauty of the flora and landscape and the wealth of wildlife. This yearning is what the Italians call “il mal d’Africa” – the African sickness.

It’s something I’ve lived with for more than 40 years, since leaving Kenya in 1972.

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Mount Kilimanjaro – image courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

A few months ago I received an unexpected windfall. Having briefly considered putting it away for a rainy day that may never come, I decided instead to seize the day and return to visit the magical country that is Kenya. TOH has never been there, and I so much want him to experience the warmth and friendliness of the Kenyan people, and the thrill of seeing Africa’s greatest mountains and wild animals in their natural habitat.

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As it is going to be the experience of a lifetime – I very much doubt we’ll ever be able to do anything similar again – it has to be perfect.

I have a friend of long-standing – I mean really long-standing, Vivien and I have known each other since we were 14 – who organises bespoke safaris in Kenya where she was brought up and has lived for most of her life. She is, above all, a perfectionist in everything she does. Nothing less than excellence is her motto. However, as all her safaris are customised according to clients’ wishes, there was no price list to consult and I expected my requested itinerary would be far more than we can afford. I cautiously enquired “on behalf of a friend.” Oh dear, how awkward we English are when discussing finance with friends!

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The price she has given me is less than half of an almost identical safari by other companies, and within our budget. We’ve spent the last month working together to finalise the itinerary and confirm availability of all the accommodation. Vivien has performed miracles in organising this, and it is now done!

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Vivien and hitch-hiker

Kenya is famed for the warmth of its hospitality, the luxury of its hotels and game lodges, and the quality of its cuisine. Our 17-day full-board itinerary includes stays in Amboseli, Mount Kenya Safari Club, Samburu, Lake Nakuru, Maasai Mara (of which 4 whole days in the unbelievably romantic Little Mara Bush Camp), and a visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage and a local school for under-privileged children.

We are linking up with members of the 95th Bomb Group Memorials Foundation of the 8th Air Force. If you fancy a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in one of the world’s most beautiful countries, seeing nature at its grandest, full details including itinerary and sign-up forms are available here. The group is limited to a maximum of 20 people. Should you be interested in joining, and wish to discuss anything not mentioned on the site, you’re welcome to email me at doolally dot tap at gmail dot com.

I am nearly paralysed with excitement, because in August next year we will be on our way to Kenya for 17 days of pampering and wonderment, camera and notebook packed – I can feel a new book coming on!

PS  Did I mention that our itinerary will include standing on the Equator? :)

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Ralph :: sadness waiting for someone with a heart ….. PLEASE!

Originally posted on dog::links:

This dog moved me to tears the moment I saw his dear face and hear his tragic story and current intolerable situation :(

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Ralph is 14 years old and has lived his entire life on the end of a chain!  He was kept as a guard dog for a business and now they feel he has outlived his usefulness because he is old and has arthritis and so…….. wait for it…  Ralph is now in a pen, on cold concrete, out in the open, on his own seeing nobody ever except when he is brought food once a day!!

I’m sorry but this brought me to tears and to see this dear old fellow just left to face another winter alone in the cold is not acceptable.  Ralph is a gentle soul who just needs a warm, soft place to rest his old bones for what time he has left…

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Winter’s icy claws

There hasn’t been a great deal of time for blogging, or visiting blogs recently.

Christmas hurtles towards us at an alarming rate, and for once I’ve actually managed to do the presents in time. Living in very rural France, we don’t have access to the anything like the same selection found in even small towns in England, so it’s thanks to on-line shopping that I’ve found gifts that I hope their recipients will enjoy.

Apart from that, I’m in the planning stages of a project so exciting that I can hardly wait to announce it, and as soon as it is written in stone, I’ll do so. Just for the moment, it’s lips glued shut. :)

Autumn is my favourite season. I love the cooler nights and early mornings, the smell of wood smoke, the crunch of leaves, the absence of flies, and the colours – oh, those soft, warm colours. So this morning I whizzed out into the garden to capture the last few remaining leaves before they fall to their deaths. Last night there was a hard frost, which was still lingering, but vanishing quickly in the morning sunshine.

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And amid all the muted tones of brown and green, a blaze of glowing orange. She has bloomed for months, and although most of the stems and leaves are now a mushy mess, she is still defiant, with her back to the wall and her face to the sun. I do love this little flower.

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Hello, Grandfather!

If he was still alive, my maternal grandfather would have been 116 years old.

However, he died from tuberculosis in November, 1932 at the very young age of 34 and long before I was born. Consequently, I never knew him, and what I knew about him was very, very little.

That he was an American serviceman, that he and my grandmother married in London in 1918, and that they had one child, a daughter, my mother. They moved to his home in America, but the marriage failed and my grandmother returned to England with my mother, still a baby.

This is all I knew from my grandmother who rarely mentioned him. From the little she said, I had a mental image of a feckless, scruffy individual, stocky, with a thick mop of unruly hair.

With a surname like Kelly, trying to find more information about him through the genealogy sites was extremely difficult, and consuming time that I had to dedicate elsewhere, so I had relegated it to the bottom of other projects. But I had always wanted to know more about him. A friend who really knows her way around genealogy offered to do some research for me, and within an hour I was looking at his photograph and knew a lot more about him that I ever expected.

Here he is:

Vincent Allen Kelly

Vincent Allen Kelly

It was an emotional moment, and revealed nothing like the villainous scamp I imagined. I think he’s a handsome devil, mature for a 22-year-old, looks very Irish, and reminds me of Jeremy Paxman and Sean Penn.

I’m so grateful to the lovely Jenny Warren for the effort she has put into this.

And there may yet be more to come about Vincent Kelly, or should I say Frederick Mannering? ;)

Slumming by choice

The recent news about the hotel in Blackpool that fined a couple £100 for leaving a negative review started me thinking.

Over the years we have been fortunate to stay in some of the world’s top-class hotels and luxury resorts, and only one has left any lasting memory.

That was at the Dorchester many years ago, at a company function. We were booked into a large suite. I woke in the middle of the night, disorientated and needing the bathroom. But I couldn’t find a bedside light, and the thick curtains blocked out any ambient light from the road. There was not a glimmer anywhere. I climbed out of bed and began tapping my way around the walls, trying to find a light switch, panic growing by the second. I ran my hands up and down, from left to right, round in circles, patting and panting, until I found a door handle. Ah! I turned the handle. The door stayed shut. I groped for a key. There was no key. I tried the handle again. Nothing. (By the way, all this time TOH was sleeping like a baby.)

Hysteria replaced panic. I shook, kicked and pounded on the door with my fists, screaming: “Let me OUT, you bastards. Let me OUT!”

A slice of light appeared around the edge of the door, and a voice shouted: “Shut up and go to sleep, you bloody stupid woman.” The door I had found communicated not with the corridor, but with the adjoining suite. dorchester

TOH finally woke up, switched on the bedside light, and steered me back to bed, where I slept with the light on for the rest of the night.

There was also the unfortunate incident at the Gatwick Hilton where TOH locked himself out of the room stark naked, in a brightly-lit corridor overlooking the atrium, but I wouldn’t describe the Gatwick Hilton as a luxury hotel, so it doesn’t count.

But in general, my only recollections of luxury holidays is that they were luxurious. Clean bed linen. Comfy furniture. On the other hand, we’ve stayed in some pretty slummy places, and can still look back and remember the experiences with amusement. When travelling I’m wanting lasting experiences, not ethereal moments that are soon forgotten.

At a small hotel somewhere in Wales, many years ago, the bed was more like a hammock, with a huge dip in the middle, so we had to tip the bed on its side to leave space to put the mattress onto the floor.

In a shabby hotel in Andorra the bed was similarly saggy, so we took the doors off the wardrobe and put them under the mattress to give it some rigidity. The hotel had assured us they catered for vegetarians, and served us hard-boiled eggs for every meal, for 10 days, culminating in the New Year’s Eve special – a vast bowl of mashed potato with six eggs sticking up out of it. For each of us. :D The same hotel’s floors were bare concrete and children ran up and down shrieking from the early hours of the morning until TOH leapt out of bed and shouted at them, leading to their parents glaring at us and emanating hostility for the next week.

Driving through France at night many years ago on our way back from Spain, we came off the motorway in search of somewhere to stay the night. After following a road for several miles, we saw a sign indicating ‘chambres‘ eight miles further on. We arrived in a small and dismal village, where the only sign of life was a somewhat grubby little bar/café. We asked the tired-faced and wild-haired lady behind the counter if she knew where we could find a room for the night. She took a key from a shelf and beckoned us to follow her up some dingy stairs. She trudged down a narrow corridor and pushed open a door into a room that contained a double bed, a mirror, and a bidet with a sliver of soap perched on the edge. We looked in dismay, but as it was almost midnight we knew that we would not find anywhere else out here in the middle of nowhere. At least the sheets were clean.

I asked if there was a bathroom. She nodded and led us up another flight of stairs. On the way up we met a cheery man coming down who winked and clicked his tongue as he passed. The bathroom was spotless and gave no indication that it had ever been used.

In the far-ago days when TOH used to race his airplane, we were staying on the Isle of Wight for the Schneider Trophy race. Normally for these weekends accommodation was arranged for competitors, crew and committee in quality hotels, but there was nowhere large enough to accommodate everybody together on the island except for the local holiday camp, where the pimply lad on reception greeted an Air Vice-Marshall with “Hello mate, what can I do for you?” :D

Breakfast had to be ordered at dinner time the previous evening. Dinner was served at 6.30pm. Our quarters were a tiny room, where the kettle was perched on top of a wardrobe and you had to stand on the bed to reach it. We had been asked by the media to take our dogs with us for a documentary they were filming. Our dogs were extremely well-behaved and quiet. Unfortunately there was a difficult person staying nearby who was offended that the camp’s “No dogs” rule was being flouted, albeit with the prior agreement of the camp. This wretched little man complained continually until the staff were forced to try to evict us just before midnight.

First came the receptionist, then the manager, and when we still refused to vacate our miserable little box, the police arrived. They said they would take the dogs to the police compound for the night, and loaded them into their van. The dogs promptly leapt into the front seat, while TOH had a stand-up row with management and police, and insisted on removing the dogs from the van. Had the horrible little man only gone back to his room, we could have quietly returned to ours and had a few hours sleep. But no, he stood his ground and would not be swayed. The rules said “No dogs”, and he wasn’t going to bed until the dogs were removed from the premises.

Eventually a compromise was reached. We were re-located for the remains of the night from the box to one of the new bungalows that had not yet been open for the public.  So ya boo sucks, Mr Misery. Next day we were rehomed in a small hotel where we were given a four-poster bed and the staff looked after the dogs while we went out for dinner.

On a package holiday to one of the Greek islands, the guests in the adjoining room were Italians who returned in the early hours and stood talking and laughing in the corridor. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that one of them had put the key into the lock of their door. The key had a tennis ball sized wooden knob on it. While they talked and laughed, the keyholder turned the key backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, with the wooden knob banging rhythmically on the door in time to the key clicking in the lock. After 20 minutes of this, TOH had had enough. Springing naked from bed and launching himself into the corridor, he yelled at them to “SHUT UP!” Silence fell, and they all tiptoed into their rooms. And for the rest of our stay we could hear them coming back every night, whispering and tiptoeing. :D

Don’t for a moment think I don’t enjoy a little luxury from time to time. I do! But all I’ll remember is yes, it was lovely and the food was great. I won’t recall what we ate, but I’ll always remember those Andorran hard-boiled eggs. :D

An antidote to grimness

I’ve just finished reading Paris Trout by Pete Dexter, winner of the 1988 National Book Award. It’s a bleak story of a wealthy man without a conscience, who murders a little black girl and abuses his wife, and believes that his money can buy him out of trouble. The tension builds slowly but steadily. There’s a constant hint of a forthcoming cataclysm, but it’s a long time coming. Paris Trout is one of the least likeable fictional characters I’ve come across, but I found the story compulsive and read it over four nights. The shocking ending left me gloomily satisfied.

For a change of tone, I began reading Confessions of a Turtle Wife by Anita Salzberg. Since buying a Kindle I’ve become ruthless with my reading choices. Once I would plod through a paperback because having bought it I felt I should finish it. Now, with 751 titles loaded on the Kindle and the knowledge I will never be able to read them all (particularly as I continue adding to them), if I’m not enjoying them pretty quickly, ping, button pressed, title deleted. Life is too short to finish a book you are not enjoying. Discarded titles lie in a virtual heap all over the floor.

Before getting up this morning, I flicked open the Turtle Wife intending to read the first few paragraphs to see whether it was destined for a ping or not. It was only the insistent moans of Tommy and the clicking of his claws on the tiles an hour later that dragged me downstairs to feed him, by which time I was a quarter of a way through the book and laughing out loud non-stop.

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It is the matter of fact, deadpan narrative that makes this such a funny read. As Anita’s new husband Allen the turtleholic acquires ever more turtle-friends, Anita takes it all in her stride. Turtles in the kitchen; turtles in the bath; turtles trundle free-ranging around the apartment laying eggs and small smelly deposits on the carpet. Twenty-gallon tanks and associated maintenance equipment occupy the kitchen shelves. Astroturf is laid in the apartment for the comfort of the turtles. People turn up day and night with unwanted or injured turtles as Allen takes on the job of Turtle Adoption Committee representative for New York.

They visit a man who has more than 1,000 turtles, and whose basement is ‘to turtle people what Canterbury was to Chaucer’s pilgrims,’ and his imperturbable wife ‘the Mother Teresa of turtle wives.’

Going on vacation is always a problem. Some turtles can go with them (yes!), but those left behind need a level of attention that would challenge an Intensive Care Unit. Turtles know what they want and how to get it. Tulip, the Malayan box turtle won’t eat unless she’s wrapped in a towel and sung to while being rocked in a rocking chair for half an hour. It looks as if tiny Omni has been eaten by the cat.

Then there’s the Turtle Roundup and the Turtle Show where eccentric turtle-owners bring their pets in a variety of strange clothing ranging from sombreros to suspenders.

For a turtleholic, nothing is too much trouble to ensure the care and comfort of their charges. ‘…  it went everywhere in its own customized traveling bag, complete with indoor-outdoor carpeting, hot water bottle, miniature sleeping bag and mini heating pad.’ One owner played thunderstorm tapes for her box turtle, one bought a miniature Christmas tree each year for hers. And so on.

There’s also the more serious aspect of illicit importation of turtles, their welfare, and the destruction of turtle habitat.

Well, from this you may be able to guess that I am totally hooked on this book! So it’s bye for now while I dive back into the world of turtlemania. And no, I do not plan on getting a turtle, before you ask.

PS. Many years ago I kept two small terrapins. My mother-in-law at the time was highly critical in case the children swallowed one because, she said, there had been a recent report in an Italian newspaper of a child who had swallowed a terrapin that lived in its stomach, and the child was growing up to look like one.

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Do not let your child swallow a terrapin