There’s bad news, and good news

The bad news is that our household has fallen victim to the dreaded flu. I’ve been in bed for the last 5 days, with a racking cough, roaring fever, painful bones and joints and an occasional hallucination. Really horrid. Yesterday it caught up with TOH, so we are both a pitiful sight and sound. I’ve been wobbling myself downstairs once a day to deal with anything urgent before wobbling back up again.

The dogs have been wonderful, happy to act as nursemaids, curled up on the bed and asking for nothing more than their meals. Until yesterday TOH was managing to walk them, but neither of us have the strength at the moment.

The good news concerns our photographic safari to Kenya later this year.

AsYouLikeIt Safaris is an Editor’s Choice on the prestigious Dunhill Best Travel Deals site.  Having spent many long hours comparing deals before choosing AsYouLikeIt for our safari, I think that confirms we have made the best and wisest choice,

Now I retire once more to my nest, sharing a large faux-fur throw with Tally, to cough and dream of Kenyan sunshine and wildlife. How long does flu last? Surely five days is long enough?

Fearless in the face of attack

A group of members from our camera club went to the Angoulême comic strip festival last month. I hadn’t been for many years, and remembered it as a splendid event for street photography, with huge vibrant cartoons painted on the walls throughout the old part of the town.

Sadly it is no longer like that. Instead you had to queue and pay to see the exhibits housed in numerous long marquees – no good for our project, and it was a dull, drizzly day. Nevertheless we enjoyed ourselves because we are a group who get on very well together socially. The club welcomes enthusiasts of all levels, is supportive, lively, friendly and non-competitive – no monthly award for the ‘best photo’.

We made the best of the conditions and each of us came home satisfied with at least a few shots.

Here’s a book cover illustrating the fearless Englishman, armed only with a rifle, facing a terrifying attack by a spear-wielding savage

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I would have loved to know something about this rather medieval-looking gentleman.

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Georges Remi, known as Hergé, creator of Tintin

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It sounded interesting, especially the ‘cosy’ bit, because it was rather chilly wandering around. However, we never found this exhibition.

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One of the few great murals on the walls of the city, La Fille des Remparts.

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The Simpsons added a welcome splash of colour

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The tattooist …. any suggestions for a caption?

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Book review: Msomi and Me

This title was recommended to me by several friends, all ex-Kenyans like myself. I’d love it, they said.

I resisted. Why? Because I won’t read or watch anything involving animal suffering, and all too often memoirs set in the African bush contain graphic and distressing descriptions of nature red in tooth and claw, or man’s insane drive to kill anything that moves, the bigger the better.

Growing up in Kenya I saw nature at its bloodiest. Seeing a kill in a game park was regarded as the highlight of any trip. I know how it happens and accept that it is part of nature and the need for survival. I just don’t want to see or read it about any more.

After a friend finally convinced me, promising there was nothing unpleasant in this memoir, I read it from beginning to end in one evening.

Brian Connell waves farewell to his engineering consultancy to follow a dream combining his two passions, photography and African wildlife. He buys a derelict bush camp in southern Africa to develop and use to run photographic wildlife workshops.

Hardly has he set foot on the land when an elderly African gentleman arrives and virtually takes over. Brian doesn’t even need to think what he is going to call the camp, because Msomi decides that for him. “Nokuthula,” meaning ‘place of peace.’

With Msomi’s help – or perhaps more accurately under his direction – the camp takes shape and soon becomes a flourishing business, welcoming a diversity of clients including a successful rock band.

The book is a collection of anecdotes about life at Nokuthula over seven years, about the staff, the guests, the wildlife, the country, and most of all, about Msomi with his outspoken views and African wisdom. The author’s love of everything African flows from the pages. I found myself with an almost permanent smile on my face as he shares the often cantankerous attitude of his self-appointed guru, the beauty of the landscape and the magic and majesty of the animals – especially Khankhanya, the rescued cheetah.

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Khankhanya, the rescued cheetah with a sense of humour. © Brian Connell

My friends were right. I LOVED this book. While there is no animal suffering, there is human tragedy on a monumental scale. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me that I can read about that.

The writing is beautiful, the photographs delightful, it’s a story to warm your heart and crack it too.  Unhesitatingly five stars.

Brian Connell campaigns passionately on behalf of African wildlife.

You can find him on Facebook and Twitter and on his website.

Msomi and Me is currently on offer during February at £1.42 as a Kindle download.

Book review: Cutting for Stone

So much for the plan to review some books ‘over the next couple of weeks.’ The last-minute chance for a rare trip to England interfered with that, but now I’m back and beginning to catch up with myself.

Again on the theme of Africa, Cutting for Stone is a VERY BIG book, set in Ethiopia during political turmoil under the reign of diminutive but powerful Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, Lion of Judah, revered as their god by Rastafarians and commonly known in Kenya at the time, irreverently, but affectionately, as Highly Delighted. 🙂

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Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia

However, the emperor plays a minor part in the story. The main character is Marion Stone, one of twin boys born at a mission hospital to a nun and fathered by a doctor. Their mother dies in childbirth, and their father vanishes, leaving the boys to be raised by two Indian doctors. Both boys will grow up to become surgeons. Marion is a serious and studious boy, while his brother Shiva is a blithe hedonist.

Covering twenty-five years, it is a story of love in many forms. Forbidden love; brotherly love; lost love and parental love. It is also a tale of patriotism, treachery of the worst kind, and of redemption.

The author, Abraham Verghese is a doctor born in Ethiopia, who knows his subjects well and writes fluently and gracefully. All his characters are convincing and I soon forgot they were fictional as they drew me into their lives. Telling his story in the first person, Marion’s world is ripped apart as a teenager by a dual act of betrayal by two people he loves, which will have terrible repercussions over the next ten years.

There are numerous passages describing medical treatments and complex surgery, and I admit that I skipped through these and felt that they were often superfluous to the story. However, to anybody in the medical profession I imagine they would make interesting and informative reading.

At 600 pages – I read it on my Kindle so it wasn’t heavy 🙂 – the narrative IS slow and in the beginning I struggled to keep going, but I am so glad that I did because once hooked I found it a riveting read. Marion’s story is punctuated by cruel twists and sickening shocks, with a satisfying ending despite the fact that there is much tragedy along the way. I’m not going to give anything more away, but would recommend this as a work of fiction worthy of all the accolades it has received.

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I hesitated between 4 and 5 stars. As a beautifully-written and compelling saga I feel it well deserves 5 stars. On the other I didn’t enjoy the detailed and lengthy medical passages and was tempted to deduct a star because of that. But then again it was simple enough to skip through them without detracting from the narrative, so it’s 5 stars from me.