The other side of beauty?

The grass could do with a trim. But there’s something stopping me taking out the push mower. I simply can’t do it.

It’s not because I’m tired after a long weekend spent in the company of friends I haven’t seen for years – though I am. It’s not because I can’t be bothered, though that does tend to happen. And it’s all the more likely when I know anthro-man willbe back soon and will see to it as a priority. He does like an orderly patch of grass.

Why then, this reluctance of one woman to go to mow our not-even-nearly a meadow?

It’s because of the jewels, the picture, the vignette nature has painted for me in one corner. I simply can’t disturb it.

The sun is fitful, but as I stand and stare, several paces away, it’s beaming full down on our little garden. Gorgeous colours glint where its rays fall. Jewel-bright flashes of emerald, sapphire, ruby. Well, not quite ruby. More a crimson mixed with scarlet which glistens, rather than glints.

The jewels are in motion. Rising and falling. But the red is still. Motionless. Resting on a lattice of ivory white bones.

Yes, bones.

There is a blackbird nest in the garden. Not very well sited, I fear. And here, in the corner, not far from that nest, are the raw red remains of a young one. Not a baby, not so small. A meatier size than that, a blackbird adolescent.

The feathers lie some distance away. Most of the flesh has been stripped, but the vibrant red remains offer plenty of sustenance for the flies.

I can’t go anywhere close, I know I would feel sick. Squeamish suburban westerner that I am.

But I still, reluctantly, see the beauty. I see it in a fleeting way, for a particle of time before my knowledge of the substrate kicks to the surface, the beginnings of admiration turning to disgust.

And I think of John Clare, a poet I find easy to read, and easy to admire.

Does knowledge of his troubled life and death in madness make his work more appealing to me? Or is it simply his vision of another world, a world more connected with all other living things?

Here is a poem I go back to now and then, fascinated by his innocent view of flies.

These tiny loiterers on the barley’s beard,

And happy units of a numerous herd

Of playfellows, the laughing summer brings,

Mocking the sunshine in their glittering wings,

How merrily they creep, and run, and fly!

No kin they bear to labour’s drudgery,

Smoothing the velvet of the pale hedge-rose;

And where they fly for dinner no one knows –

The dew-drops feed them not – they love the shine

Of noon, whose sun may bring them golden wine.

All day they’re playing in their Sunday dress –

Till night goes sleep, and they can do no less;

Then, to the heath-bell’s sunken hood they fly,

And like to princes in their slumber lie,

Secure from night, and dropping dews, and all,

In silken beds and roomy painted hall.

So merrily they spend their summer day,

Now in the cornfields, now the new-mown hay,

One almost fancies that such happy things,

With coloured hoods and richly burnished wings,

Are fairy folk, in splendid masquerade

Disguised, as if of mortal folk afraid,

Keeping their merry pranks a mystery still,

Lest glaring day should do their secrets ill.

Later in life, in Northampton Asylum, he wrote of ‘House or window flies’:

These little indoor dwellers, in cottages and halls, were always entertaining to me; after dancing at the window all day from sunrise to sunset they would sip of tea, drink of the beer, and eat of the sugar, and be welcome all summer long. They look like things of mind or fairies, and seem pleased or dull as the weather permits. In many clean cottages and genteel houses, they are allowed to creep, fly, or do as they like; and seldom ever do wrong. In fact they are the small and dwarfish portion of our own family, and so many fairy familiars that we know and treat as one of ourselves.

I wonder, would he have felt the same had he known the secret of the fly? Its hidden payload of life-threatening germs?

I also wonder, seeing jewels where Clare saw fairies, if jewels – the hard, cold ones we set in rings and regal treasures, crowns and tiaras – are equally ugly, or even cruel, beneath the glamour? Signifiers of conquest? ‘Mortals, mere mortals, look on us and beware.’

Blood diamonds, if they could speak, would surely answer yes. But perhaps the hard labour of the poor on which almost all jewel mining depends makes them all things of conflict, of pain, of darkness.

Beauty, feeding on pain.

I leave that thought with you.

Time to wash the dishes after breakfast. To bring some order back into the domestic chaos before the wanderer returns.

But I’m leaving the lawn, with the legacy left it by those beautiful birds, the magpies, to him.

The bowl hides a real well The garden is very small and we wanted nature to have a little more room so added this Corten steel bowl which the water boatmen love

Posted in Nature notes, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Student satisfaction – what does it take? And is it edible – sorry – ethical?

Student fees in England are high. And as someone who received a grant to study from a local authority – as almost all students did, back in the good ol’ days – I feel sorry for the youngsters who have to shoulder a debt into the world of work before they’ve even earned their first full-time, career-type-job pay cheque.


Today, yet again, stories of student dissatisfaction are in the news.

They don’t feel they’re getting value for money. Specifically, many of them, don’t rate the teaching and cite – irony of ironies (read on) – lack of contact hours.

And the more work they have to do, the happier they are, it seems.

Well, I thought those of you who studied before the advent of the internet might like to know – and marvel at – what resources today’s students have available to them at my husband’s university.

First, the online handbook, which is introduced to students at the beginning of the course. This details what the course they’ve chosen entails, its requirements, deadlines for assessment, essay questions, reading lists and timetables for classes, lectures, exams, dissertations, etc.

And everything on the reading lists, btw, should be accessible from the library at the click of a link.

Thus, it’s a doddle to find out, in an instant, what’s expected, when work is due and to access the resources needed to complete it.

Lectures are filmed – the lecturer wearing a mic to record the content.

I hate this idea. I’m sure it hampers a lecturer’s style, knowing throw-away, controversial remarks and dad (or mum) jokes are forever accessible online. Not to mention my own feeling that it’s dodgy in terms of copyright. Lecturing can require not just a lot of personal research (and constant updating) but plenty of original thought.

But never mind that now. Back to spoonfeeding.

So (to start this sentence as so many academics irritatingly do now) the lectures are available online if a student misses a class.

The PowerPoint slides are online.

The notes are online.

Thus, if the student fails to attend any lecture, the material is there to work from, no excuse.

So far, so good. And arguably, so valuable, yes?

Here are a couple of examples of what actually happens.

Student turns up to session, week before presentations are due. Previous week lecturer told students what’s expected – details of format, style and content – this is simply a reminder. OK?

So (again). Student arrives for class. Unusual in itself.

‘What’s the presentation about? What are we supposed to do?’ s/he asks. (I’m leaving personal pronouns vague on purpose.)

The subject was discussed in the previous week’s lecture. The actual lecture was online. The PowerPoint was online. The online handbook detailed what was required.

That same student is now applying for postgraduate courses.

With a lousy attendance record, you might think s/he would consider choosing a referee whose course s/he had attended diligently. And you might think s/he’d ask the lecturer first.

But no. A reference request arrives with no warning.

Now, cut this student some slack. S/he’s far from being the only one. And given all that’s available online, you might not be surprised attendance can be pretty poor.

So (getting used to this ‘so’ starting?) let’s move on, to assessment. Of lecturers and courses, not students.

Students are routinely asked to rate their lecturers and course material in end-of-course evaluations. It’s pretty much the norm in higher education and is used in deciding on the allocation of funds, curriculum development, performance rating of academics – and so on.

A brilliant first class student recently marked down my husband’s course because (wait for this) that student felt s/he had just done badly in a class test.

The students had access to a previous test online, had been given a detailed week by week review of topics to study – and this was all two weeks in advance (and filmed and available online).

The student actually received first class marks. But by the time s/he knew that, the damage was done.


So (I’m getting the hang of this), to return to the question of the title, what does it take for students to feel they have value for money, to rate their lecturers and courses highly?

I have the answer. It was reported in the i newspaper earlier this week.

Chocolate biscuits.

Dr Manuel Wenk, as reported in the i, is one of the authors of a study to be published in the journal Medical Education.  That study:

found that those groups who had received chocolate cookies evaluated their teachers as being significantly better than those who received nothing.

They also considered their teaching materials to be better and their scores for the overall quality of the course were significantly higher than those of the control group.

Dr  Wenk, according to the i:

warned that while the research may at first appear light-hearted, the fact that teacher evaluation could be so easily influenced revealed the “total inadequacy” of such important teaching surveys.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

So (last one, promise), to return to the title once more, my advice to lecturers in England is: stock up on chocolate digestives, Choco Leibnitz, whatever.

In fact, why not invest in choux buns with fresh cream and chocolate icing? Or gateaux? You know there will be an escalation now the truth has been revealed, don’t you?

Whatever you do, feed ‘em – and watch your obese ratings swell your university’s rankings.

Birthday cake from April, made for the prof, in the form of an excavation square and stone tools. Just for illustrative purposes. No students were bribed as a result of ingestion of said cake 😉

Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

A couple of months in the ups and downs

An old English folk song inspired the title. And to cheer you into this largely pictorial post here it is, sung by Steeleye Span.

Those ups and downs are NOT the kind I’m referring to – I’ve never asked a young man to tie my garter and gone off with him to be naughty in an apple orchard. Well, not recently.

Moving on…

It’s been a while since I posted.

My typing fingers have been still. I’ve been loathe to engage with the news, what’s happening in the prof’s world, or friends. I’ve been – well let’s just say, I’ve not been in the mood.

The last two months I’ve felt as if I’m living by a large, dark lake dotted with glistening islands. The lakeshore being life in general, the glistening islands escapes and evasions.

Evasions don’t work. Nor do escapes. The lake and its shore are still there when I get back. But at least I can see them shining over the murk.

Now, though, it’s time to move on.

By way of catching up I’m posting a series of captioned pictures, taken on my glistening islands. Fast forwarding to the present.  And since some of you seem to like joining me on my rambles, I’d welcome your company.

My thanks to the weather gods who have smiled on us here in the rainy north west for the last few weeks. And my apologies to my blogging friends. I’ve not been commenting lately, I’m sorry. I hope to be back soon 🙂

Strands – and stranded


Way back in April I walked further along our local beach  than I’ve ever yet ventured – and it was glorious.

Lunching in the car, while male lifeguards wait for the female lifeguard to dress Yes that’s the only reason I took this picture showing half naked men


The view behind me after 20 minutes

A scattering of sea coal along the edge of the high tide

About 40 minutes from the car, utterly beautiful view to Formby around the point, but getting thirsty  so have to turn around



In May we went out early one morning, the prof and I and found a fisherman stranded, waiting for the tide.

The tide is out. Far out!

What’s going on? Is it shrimp fishing?

Oh dear no, he’s stranded. Was supposed to be 25 miles offshore now, fishing over one of the coast’s many wrecks

The tractor can’t get him out, they have to wait till the next high tide, still five hours away



Solitary, another day, I walked on our local estuarial marshes accompanied by a musical guard of honour from the skylarks. What a privilege.

Although this is green, it is a fisherman’s path and the tide does come right in sometimes. This is on the Ribble Estuary and way in the distance Blackpool is glistening across the other side

Five seconds-worth of larks ascending:


When all else fails, we have the longest iron pier in the country in the middle of town. It runs out across the main Southport beach, which often appears to stretch out to infinity. The beach is notorious for the sea being out of reach. But that and its hard-packed nature mean it has been important in the history of aviation and racehorse training.

The legendary racehorse Red Rum trained on the beach.

During World War II, Spitfires and Anson Bombers, repaired at nearby Hesketh Park aerodrome, took off from the beach. Dick Merrill made two transatlantic flights from the beach, in 1936 and 1937. Read the fascinating story of one of them here.

And I’ve written before about our spectacular annual air shows .

Sometimes essential for seeing the sea

Heading back to town and the marine lake

Elegance for dark days and nights

Dune world

My neighbours, Carole and John, introduced me to the dunes that wrap around us, amid the golf course which I wrote about here – and now I’m hooked. Carole recently told me I could start from the other direction, Ainsdale village – it’s wonderful!

We have precious few hills around here, so sand dunes are good training ground. The soft sand makes them doubly tough on flat-surface-walkers’ muscles

On one side of the path, nature resplendent…

… on the other, manicured golf world (I think it’s Hillside golf course which abuts Royal Birkdale)

But golf-world also allows this glorious bank of gorse and pine

Magical slacks (pools),  filigree branches, reflections and shadows amid spring’s burgeoning greenery

I was so thrilled to see these – having nearly stepped on them

Can you smell it? Ahhh!

The dandelion clock says it’s time to stop

Hills and witches

Pendle Hill has been a looming, brooding presence in my life for as long as I can remember.

The hill and its surrounding villages are associated with the infamous witch trials of 1612. A brief account of them, on Lancaster Castle’s website, can be found here.

For me, part of the superstition was that the hill was unclimbable. I suspect that was my parents trying to avoid having to do it. Now I have scaled the beast and crikey, it is a beast! I’m not a big walker, it took us four and a half hours to climb, recover, eat our sandwiches and get back down. Our knees and muscles made themselves known next day.

Picture from last June when we decided against the climb…

A good hiding place for a witch’s familiar?

It is spring, after all, so we must have lambs

Through several farms, thinking – it’s further than I thought… But definitely on the witches’ trail

Uphill becomes a little steeper now and a warning to heed

Nearly there, one of many catching-my-breath stops

A panorama:

This couple with the sheepdog found the best spot for lunch

The other side of the hill – a view from our lunch spot

Breaking my self-imposed rule by posting a picture of myself, but I was just SO proud I made it!

About a third of the way down the ‘easy’ route down the main slope. See those people up there, marked by the little arrow I drew? They scrambled straight down the hillside… bonkers

Meadows and woods

One of my ‘charms’ – the special places I  wrote about earlier this year, is Lunt Meadows, a Lancashire Wildlife Trust nature reserve.

I’ve learnt, in the last year, to accept that special places set aside by humans for ‘nature’ will sometimes be managed – aka brutalised – and then I need to give them a break. Lunt Meadows is one such. But now it’s recovering from savage cutting-back and drainage management. And it’s a wonderful place to be on a quiet day with the birds of the air calling – and the wind in my newly-short hair.

A big drainage ditch – rather lovely I think, especially as the swifts and swallows squeal up above

Drainage ditches are essential to this meadow environment where cows often graze

Path to who knows what – for elves and pixies, satyrs and dryads

The joy of small things that pass and change and keep the world turning

And so back to the car park and the material world…

Romans and rivers

Ribchester in Lancashire is well known by northern Roman history enthusiasts – and possibly by others too 😉 My father’s friend and erstwhile headmaster at St Mary’s College Blackburn, Father Philip Graystone, wrote books on Roman roads (they are still for sale in the museum there). As a child I clearly remember scratching my head on a rusty barbed wire fence as we went on yet another picnic with him, looking for Roman remains.

It’s a beautiful area. We were lucky, recently to stay on the edge of the village, on the banks of the River Ribble from which the village gets its name. The ‘chester’ bit being from the Roman for camp – castra.

The Roman name of the garrison and civilian settlement, which was subordinate to Chester and lasted from 70 AD to the fourth century, was Bremetennaceum.

Looking towards Pendle on the banks of the Ribble not far from our b&b

Doves seeking shade at Stydd Gardens, a lovely relaxed restaurant in old glasshouses near the village

The Roman bath house at dusk – not a great picture, sorry

Did a little princess leave this slipper after bathing?


Roman granary behind the church

Tombstone of an Asturian cavalryman

Lice, nit combs and something phallic 😉


Here’s the eerily lovely Ribchester Parade helmet – a replica – rotating in its display case. The real thing is in London of course 😦

River Ribble a short walk over the other side of our b&b

A perfect Sunday morning in England, sun shining church bells ringing:


And finally, for those who believe Lancashire is all mills and clogs. Clitheroe, on a sunny Sunday morning in May, clog dancers at t’owd mill

Tall ships sailing

I’ll leave the day I spent on a typesetting course for another time – if you’ve made it this far I’d be surprised!

To finish with, then, please enjoy last Monday’s glorious, sunny spectacle – the Tall Ships ‘a-leaving of Liverpool’ and setting off for Bordeaux. Lowry would have loved it. And yes, he painted the sea, the seaside and landscapes – not just matchstick men.

One of Anthony Gormley’s Iron Men kindly acting as a seagull perch

Wheely good fun

Bon voyage!

Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Liverpool | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

“O Word of Fear”

It’s been a very long time. Not since the mid-1990s in fact. And that was at a small, rural sewage treatment works in Wiltshire.

Rural sewage treatment works tend to be havens for wildlife – and also quiet, hard to find (no sat navs then) and occasionally it’s only possible to depart by reversing down winding, hedge-blinkered, narrow lanes.

In days of yore, figs and tomatoes often grew at rural works, thanks to processes of nature we can all imagine. And before the days when time was money, some of the men who worked the works grew fruit and vegetables with duly aged ‘manure.’

But what I experienced in Wiltshire that memorable day was not the sight of a rare flower (as there are at some sites), nor of a small, rare four-legged animal (ditto) but a sound. The sound of an elusive creature I could not see.

A cuckoo.

Yesterday, somewhat depressed, as seems to be my fate these last few weeks (don’t mention the kitchen) I took myself out to the local sand dunes, adjoining Royal Birkdale Golf Club.

We’re lucky here, the entire coastal fringe of Sefton is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest – an SSSI.  For which we partly have our famous links golf courses  to thank, for keeping them unbuilt-upon.

The afternoon was moving on to evening, but still the spring sun poured warm libations onto my head as I strode past windswept trees and into the warm, grass covered mounds.

The fence is there because sometimes cattle or sheep are brought in to graze

The sand was soft and golden underfoot. Walking was hard work. But the world was beautiful.

A mile or so down the coast by the beach at Ainsdale this is how the dunes look

Bluebells danced their tethered dance, dappled through trees with leaves unfurling fresh and lush with sap.

Tawny tassels swung from birches. Pink-and-white blossom itched to break free.

Birds sang, dogs ran. People said ‘hi’ or ‘hello’ – or even, ‘good afternoon’.

Then I reached a place where no-one was. No dogs. No people. Just trilling birds, stands of gorse emitting waves of sharp, coconut-like scent. And me.

And then came a sound.

A word of fear, “unpleasing to a married ear.”

A cuckoo.

I thought it would be a fleeting call – that it would stop the instant I heard it, But no.

Cuck-oo, cuck-oo.

And I was back in the parquet-floored assembly hall of St Cuthbert’s Junior School, Bradford. Singing:

“When daisies pied and violets blue

And ladies smocks all silver white

And cuckoo buds of yellow hue

Do paint the meadows with delight,

The cuckoo then, on every tree,

Mocks married men;

For thus sings he,


Cuckoo, cuckoo: O word of fear

Unpleasing to a married ear.”

[Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost, Act V Scene ii]

And I was happy.

But even better, the invisible singer cuckooed on.

I lifted the little red picture machine clasped in my hand, pressed ‘record’ – and hoped for the best.

Which is why, today I can share my burst of joy with you all.

Relish the moment.

I still do.

Happy May day, one and all.



Posted in Lancashire & the golf coast, Nature notes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Over on my nerdy site…

I’ve published a post on my other site, the one where I express my nerd-like interest in things being made or done in Britain, about a printing company in Lancashire that has the last Intertype line-casting machine ever made. A machine which was in use with the Guardian newspaper till 1987. It’s not only a rare beast, but rarer still to find anyone who can operate it. Plus, it’s being used to typeset my Little Match Girl story. Which will then be letterpress printed.

Here’s the link if you’re interested:

That’s all!


Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teamwork, followers? A ‘doing good things’ idea

Hello everyone.

A very short post today with one question about this charitable scheme which helps entrepreneurs in ‘developing’ countries and only requires small, returnable donations to work:

would you be interested in joining a team if I set one up?

Thanks to Jill Dennison, of Filosofa’s Word, for stimulating me into action with her ‘Good People Doing Good Things posts.

I bet this Zambian woman selling their famous metre wide mushrooms would have an entrepreneurial idea

Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Bush fires, long spoons and lightning

The old Coca Cola chiller was a solid red beast of a thing. No see-through door on the side –  no door at all – just a lid on the top.

It hadn’t worked for years, what with it being paraffin-fuelled and no-one knowing how to start it. But it kept our nets of fat avocados and glossy ripe tomatoes safe.

Safe from rodents, mongooses, baboons – anything wild with an interest in nibbling human-destined food.

The fridge stood under a canvas awning attached to a caravan. Which the Americans among our volunteers called a trailer.

It was one of those volunteers, Fred, over seventy and fully recovered – we hoped – from a bypass operation, who got the old metal cabinet chilled out again.

For what seemed like hours Fred lay on his stomach, after carefully pouring in paraffin. The paraffin itself had come from the nearest petrol station, an hour-or-so’s drive from our wildlife-reserve base, below the mountains bordering Mozambique.

It was a tricky business, lighting the flame, getting the refrigerant moving, but he did it.

We kept it up for a while after he left – the volunteers only stayed for two week stints – but then it lapsed and went back to being a food store. Which was fine by me.

Being fine by me was important. Because I was in charge of the food. Of cooking. Of catering.

At one stage, that summer, I had 24 people to feed.

I say ‘I’ – but I was lucky to have the help of Dudu. A ‘maid’ in the parlance of the time and place, she was a trained primary school teacher.

Thanks to Dudu I learned how to use the stove – an open fire. A large open fire.

No control knobs. Just a shovel, a cast-iron witch’s cauldron, a long spoon – and a red face.

There was also a ‘braai’ area – for men will always be men and want to flip meat. But banish images of sleek steel and aluminium. This was a stolid concrete block, with a recess in the top, over which a grate could be laid.

Embers from the main fire would be shovelled onto it and beastburgers – made from minced, culled wildebeest or, at a pinch, impala – grilled almost to extinction.

They tasted great with those glossy ripe tomatoes, sliced. On bread rolls brought from Mbabane, several hours’ drive away, stored in plastic bags.

We also used the braai to boil kettles in the morning – and hard-boil eggs for lunch.

The cold, scraped-out ashes formed a heap near a place we all liked to sit at the edge of the escarpment on which our camp was perched. It had tremendous views.

At breakfast, as the steam from tin mugs of tea or Ricoffy rose to wet our noses, we could watch impala or zebra roaming.


I offer this only so you can see the view from the campsite, looking down to what we called ‘cocktail rock. The man on the right is the one I arrived with and the woman to his left was a friend of mine from Boston who later married him – so, all’s well that ends well, eh?

Under the massed stars of chilly nights, it was close to the fire.

It was after dinner and after dark, as I watched the living fairy lights – my first fireflies – that the rodents came.

They weren’t as scary under milky-way skies as in suburban world. But still, they were large, furry creatures and we slept on sun loungers, close to the ground.

I tried not to think about them as I snuggled into my sleeping bag, under the plastic sheet which kept off the heavy dew, on top of the sleeping pad which insulated the lounger against the chill night air.

Each morning, my pillow wet around the dry imprint of my head, I was up before everyone else. Except Dudu.

Our first task was to resurrect the fire to boil kettles. Water was piped up in great long hoses from a railway siding on the other side of the escarpment. There steam trains stopped for refills on their way to and from Mozambique.

For hot water, there was a separate pipe going to this oil drum which was then heated over a fire. We bathed in tin baths on a ledge overlooking the bush below. Baboons stole our soap if we left it out

The water was treated, safe to drink – or so we were told. I’m still here, so perhaps it was.

While Dudu tended the fires, I’d decide on breakfast.

Everyone made their own toast. Peanut butter was popular. There were eggs – but since we had them hard-boiled with our packed lunches, the day often began with a liberal serving of hot baked beans.

We made sandwiches for lunch. Packed cheese triangles and flasks of hot water – yes, hot – for drinks.

My kitchen

When the others left, I often went with them, to dig, or explore.

Flames, smoke – not good inside a Land Rover we jumped out pretty damn quickly & the prof used tape to isolate the offending wires so we could drive on…

There’s a cave behind all that dark stuff

The prof & I centre,inside the cave, ‘digging’ (can’t remember names of the other 2, sadly) & getting on famously – no idea where the guy I arrived in Swaziland was at this point! Ahem.

Me, taking a break and reading Brideshead Revisited, loaned me (I still have it) by William

The prof, lounging (yes he does have shorts on)

William. Who wore espadrilles, Where are you now, I wonder?

But sometimes I stayed back. Watched in awful fascination as huge, seething hornets made great mud nests.

I helped Dudu with the dishes. Read, sunbathed, slept.

Shredded hard white cabbage and carrots for the evening salad, served in a washing-up bowl.

Chopped tomatoes for the guacamole a certain young American (now prof) would make as our evening snack. Alternating days with sardines and Tabasco on crunchy Provita biscuits.

I learned a little Siswati from Dudu, who laughed like a drain at my pronunciation.

And then it all changed.

I’ve written before about my hasty, ignominious departure.

I was exiled here at Jenny’s place, a farm, and occasionally a visitor like the prof-in-the-making would pop by – it wasn’t all bad!

But what about Dudu’s departure?

She had worked and lived with us privileged western folk for a few months. But we had houses – bricks and mortar, stone and wood – waiting for us when we ended our dalliance with ‘wild’ bush life.

She lived in a straw hut. And straw huts are vulnerable to lightning. Which is how Dudu died.

Much later, when I returned to that campsite, memories of my earlier banishment conveniently brushed into the ash pile, I missed her.

I missed her giggle, hidden behind her hand. Her slow and steady pace. Her amusement at my ineptitude.

I see her face still. And it makes me smile.

She was one like so many women, working so hard, living in huts, carrying water for miles, with no electricity. Cooking with lung-clogging smoke over open fires.

But that’s not a thirty-year-old memory. It’s still reality in large parts of many African countries.

And the picture I bought in a friend’s shop – Tishweshwe – in Malkerns, all those years ago, has a powerful, seemingly eternal message.

Its title:

Why do women carry such heavy burdens?

The title, Why do women carry such heavy burdens?, in pencil, has faded, unlike the reality of such backbreaking chores for women all over Africa




Posted in Socks, spoons, stones and sunsets, Swaziland, Travelling | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments