Pink elephants on parade, here they come! Hippety hoppety


Should you visit elephants in South East Asia?

I’ve been to two as part of pre-arranged tours and both have left me feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. But I think part of this may be because I was spoiled in Africa.

When I went to Nairobi I visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which rescues, raises and re-introduces back into the wild, African elephants orphaned by poaching and a loss of habitat.  The centre is open only an hour a day when groups of animals walk down to be fed, watered and play, with people able to come and watch. The rest of the time the elephants go wandering around the park.  It was a really great trip and I took some of my favourite animal photos there.  I even had one trunk tickle my feet.

In comparison to that, my two day trip to Kanchanaburi, Thailand included an elephant ride.  I was a little unsure about this as I have heard tales about how animals are treated and forced to work, but I went with an open mind.  As the others in the group were on a one day trip, I stayed at the elephant centre waiting for them.  I watched as elephants loaded with saddles, some wearing chains, were walked up to a platform by their ‘drivers’, knocked gently with sticks to get into place as sweaty tourists clambered on excitedly.  Off they went for around 20 minutes, not much shade around the course, dropped off their human loads and were rewarded by bunches of bananas, bits of watermelon and sugar cane bought for them by the thankful and smiling tourists.  I bought some fruit and fed some of the elephants before they were loaded with people and taken on another ‘trek’.

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In the kitchen, the mighty kitchen, the lino sleeps tonight…


Now that I’m entering my final months of this stint in Tanzania there are so many things that I want to do but don’t have the funds for at the moment. I’m almost half way through our Easter holiday and I was hoping to go to Gombe Stream National Park to visit the chimpanzees but the ‘death money’ hasn’t come through, so I’ll se staying in Mwanza. I would love to go white water rafting in Uganda, or to see the gorillas in Rwanda, take the train from Dar es Salaam to Zambia to see Victoria Falls, but it’s not going to happen on this trip. Even if I stayed on for a further year I don’t think I’d have enough cash and time to do all of these things so there’s no point in getting annoyed and feeling like I’ve missed out.

There is plenty that I have done in the 6 months that I’ve actually been here, however. I‘ve been to Zanzibar, to Tanga and Pangani on the Tanzanian Swahili Coast. I have driven through ancient landscapes down to Shinyanga, across to Arusha, seen Mount Kilimanjaro, up across the border into Kenya. I’ve fed giraffes, been tickled by an orphaned elephant, snorkelled in the Indian Ocean, met fishermen and Maasai, been stupidly sunburnt (even in the shade), eaten fresh octopus and fish straight from the ocean. I’ve been to one of the most important archaeological sites in Kenya and watched monkeys play for half an hour. And last weekend I went to the Serengeti.

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A weekend in the country.


So where was I?  Oh yes, a bit hung over.  Not intentionally but it happened.  And I dealt with it.  Just about. Mainly by sitting inside watching stuff, avoiding excessive movement and the sun.  Then by writing things for this.

It’s been a busy week by and large.  I finished school at 2.15 on Friday, got home picked up my suitcases and by 5.15 I was on a plane for Dar es Salaam and the beginning of my half term birthday holiday adventure.

“Beep de be beep, beep de be beep…”  The alarm wouldn’t stop when I hit the button, even though I was pressing very, very hard and willing with all of my might for it to stop.  It was 7 o’clock on Saturday morning and we needed to get up to get ferry tickets because that was the day we were going to Zanzibar.

I had been sharing a hot, humid room with a partially functioning air conditioning unit at Mongolia’s house with Vicki.  As she went off to clean up in the bathroom, I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, but failed miserably.  Mongolia (An American, real name Joyce, but forever to be known as Mongolia because she lived there and that was what she was introduced as) stumbled into the room to say hello.  It was clear that she was still a little hung over if not still drunk.  And just wearing a towel.  She pointed out that we needed to wake the boys and head across the compound to Emma’s house where the others would be waiting for us.  I said I would do it, but Mongolia got there first, scrambling upstairs on all fours and announcing that she knew where at least one of them was.  Luckily nothing was flashed during that scramble.  I suspected that Phil had perhaps managed to find himself a lady so went into the room to wake James…  But instead of finding James it was Phil, his face bleeding, passed out on the bed.

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Edges are blurring all around


I’m back at school, I’m tired, I’ve got a cold coming on but otherwise things are good.

After my Christmas trip to Kenya I was quite drained, sunburnt and altogether dreading going back to work. Having a break of a month is not necessarily a good thing for me. (Yes, I know, boo hoo, poor me, I’m sure you would love a month off for Christmas – I’m not bemoaning that, I just recognise that I need more structure than all that time to my own devices.)

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I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and sky


Yesterday was spent by the beach, eating steak, then at a house overlooking the lake eating Christmas dinner.  It was the first time I’ve been out of Mwanza that hasn’t involved getting on a plane to head back to England.  A 60th birthday, most of which I spent playing with a one year old – she likes playing with my necklaces particularly.

I watched the rain clouds build and eventually burst over the far away Serengeti, drove through villages with elegant looking women working in fields in full length dresses with children in their arms or on their backs, children driving cattle, a piki piki rider with 3 passengers, a sea eagle perching on a stone in the middle of the lake, brightly coloured kingfishers darting into the water, an otter playing in the waves.

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“…you were born in a merry hour…”


“No, sure, my lord, my mother cried; but then there was a star danced, and under that was I born…”

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing is one of my favourite Shakespeare adaptations.  I think it’s a very accessible way of seeing Shakespeare, which I started seeing live on my 12th birthday.  Yes, it’s a bit far fetched that Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves are brothers and Keanu’s not really worked on his acting, but Michael Keaton is a joy as Dogberry and it has a great pairing of Beatrice and Benedick in Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.  The characters just spark off each other from the beginning of the play/film, trading insults and quips, with equal levels of intelligence. They deceive themselves in thinking that they don’t care anything for each other, but after being tricked by their friends they have an open and honest declaration of their feelings and have one of the strongest relationships in Shakespeare’s plays.  (Sorry to anyone who has actually studied literature, I just really like Shakespeare and that’s my understanding of it, feel free to correct me in the comments….)

Growing up I saw these films and plays, I read books and imagined that one day I would meet someone  like Jo Marsh meets Professor Bhaer, Beatrice and Benedick, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, Emma Woodhouse and Mr Knightley, you get the picture.  Basically someone who gets me, can put up with my nonsense and give back as good as they get from me.  Someone who I feel completely comfortable with and can just be myself.

Now I know someone like that, in fact my Mum even said he was my Mr Knightley, and I’ve loved him for years.  With all that’s been going on I thought it was about time to tell him, because he might feel the same, or he might not, either way I would know and could either give it a go with him (not sure how that would work in separate continents) or let it go and find someone equally marvellous but who wanted to be with me.  So I told him, I wrote a letter.

I was very stressed waiting for a reply – never post something important over a weekend, it just drags out nervousness – but when I got one, well, it wasn’t exactly what I hoped for but it was good to hear.  Not sure why I was worried really, I knew that he would be really good about it and reply in a way that wouldn’t hurt my feelings.  So, yes, it doesn’t seem like my life is going to be working out as it does for literary heroines, but there you go, it rarely does.  I’ll just have to keep reading things with a pinch of salt and remember that reality isn’t always so neatly plotted – happy ever afters don’t just drop by, you’ve got to make some choices to help you find your own, but if you don’t try you’ll never succeed.  So I tried and it didn’t quite work, but I’m glad that I did.  I’m now back in touch with a really good friend and don’t have to be trying to hide how I feel (apparently I wasn’t so successful in that anyway because he already knew.  Balls)  I know he’ll always be there if I need him and life is much better with him in it, whether we are a couple or not.

So that’s that then, and in 5 days I go back to Africa.  These past five weeks have been a huge mixture of emotions, but I’ve got normal life to get back to…

(For those of you wondering, I know I would be, I let him read this before publishing it, it seemed only fair.  His only comment to add was: “You should mention that I was wowed by your paella.  I certainly was.” So there you have it.)

The sun’s coming over the hill.


“Oh how the nights are long
But life is longer still
Oh how the nights are long
But the sun’s coming over the hill.

I can’t say there’s many things I wouldn’t change
There are better days gone than those that remain
But I can find joy in the sound of the rain
You have to find joy where you can.”

Karine Polwart

So three funerals in 3 days, Gaggy, Dad’s cremation then his memorial.  What do we do now?  I came back for five weeks with the intention of spending time with Dad, he died 3 days after I got back, so then time was focused on talking to undertakers (the most unintentionally hilarious one), booking churches, ordering flowers, picking music.  My brother made an urn.  And it all happened yesterday, so what do we fill our days with now?

My friends have booked me a train ticket to Newcastle for tomorrow, then I’m going to Birmingham on Monday to see some cousins and Grandad after his heart attack after that who knows?

I’ve seen some people that I’ve not seen for years and it’s made me think about things.  I’ve made some predictions about my life that people think I’ll probably change my mind about but I know now that it’s likely the way things would pan out.  But that’s ok, I’m letting people know how I feel about them.  Which means that I can make some decisions about who I want to be and what I want to do.  Sometimes we hold onto the past without realising, but at somepoint you have to draw a line and make a change.  So I have two and a half weeks before I go back to work out what that change will be.

Waiting for the music to begin


18.32 30/9/12

I’m sat on the floor of Gate 11, Nairobi Airport.  I did try to find a seat, but they are all occupied by weary travellers, bags and people who for some reason keep replying ‘Si’ to me when I ask if the seat is taken.  The sun is setting behind the clouds over the airstrip painting the sky with oranges, golds, yellows and pale blue, a stark contrast to the greying clouds which looked so white as we flew through them.  I have about 4 and a half hours until my flight to London, which will bring me back at 5.55am.  As we were descending into Nairobi the Captain announced that the ground temperature was 27 degrees, but I felt a crisp chill in the air as I climbed the steps to the departure lounge.  I’ve managed to leave my hoodie in the downstairs flat so I have no idea how I will brace against the crisp Autumnal weather that October in London will bring.

The last few days have been strange, trying not to think about what I am returning to, but focusing on what needed to be done before I left.  Friday was quite entertaining with my classes – I’m hired as a year 3 teacher but have also been teaching singing to years 7 and 8 in a crafty swap with the PE teacher who has to cover music.  On Friday after covering Emili Sande’s ‘Next to Me’ and Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’, I told the year 8s that they would have their regular teacher for the next few weeks because I have to visit my sick father, almost all of them told me to say ‘get well soon’ from them.  My year 3s seem quite excited to have the Head of Primary taking them and a few of them made me ‘We will miss you cards’ during their Golden Time.

On Friday evening some of the female staff took me to Diners – a restaurant towards the centre of the town next to our now regular Thursday take away place Sizzlers.  (This week for our chicken and chips with a film we watched ‘Never Been Kissed’.  I’m a little concerned how similar to the Drew Barrymore character I feel, especially now I’m writing about things, but no sign of Michael Vartan yet, which is a shame.)  We had a lovely meal mixing Chinese and Indian foods, before some of us headed off to Hotel Talapia next to Lake Victoria for a drink.  I think the bar staff were quite relieved that I ordered whiskey this time instead of a mojito as it takes them ages to make them, but they are a work of art.

Saturday was spent chasing up my plane ticket and organising my classroom – a job long over due.  I’ve sorted out the groupings for English and Maths, written out Monday’s timetable, arranged the planning, written some incentives to help my small people behave whilst I’m away and filled a draw with things that need to be organized when I get back.  There’s always a drawer like that somewhere and sometimes it takes me years to sort it.  Or failing that, I tip it all in the bin.

I tried watching a film with people downstairs – ‘Anchorman’ – but the DVD player was playing up, so I returned to my room to finish of ‘The Hatfields and The McCoys’, if you’ve not seen it, it’s worth a look, I think Kevin Costner won an Emmy for it recently.   People climbed the stairs to check how I was sporadically, but for the most part I kept to myself.

This morning I finally packed the suitcase with a few clothes, I’ve not got a black dress because Dad would like the funeral to be colourful on the whole. I watched more TV.  It’s a great distractor.  Three friends drove me to the airport; we sat having a drink waiting for the departure queue to reduce a bit and talked a fair bit of nonsense. I do know what is going to happen in the next week or so, I just don’t think it will fully hit me until I see my dad in a hospital bed.  Until then nonsense and distractions are a good thing.

When I got to Nairobi I realised that Mwanza Airport hadn’t checked my bag all the way through to Heathrow – apparently this is because BA isn’t one of their partner airlines or something.  I went to the transfer desk, they said fetch the bag and come back in 2 hours.  I went to fetch the bag and you have to go through immigration, which means a Visa and money I can’t really afford.  One of the airport workers fetched it for me, which cost me $5, then he said head to the transfer desk to hand the bag back in, but no luck again.  So I’m waiting. The floor is cold and I’m starting to get a numb bum, but no one is moving from their seats.  So I’m waiting.  Peering into the Duty Free and souvenir shops shows prices for tat I can’t afford.  So I’m waiting. Waiting for a seat, waiting for a plane, waiting for a lift from my uncle in the morning, waiting to spend the last few days of my dad’s life with him.

‘A storm is coming but I don’t mind, people are dying, I close my blinds.

All that I know is I’m breathing, now.

I want to change the world instead, I sleep I want to believe in more than you and me

But all that I know is I’m breathing, all I can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing now

All that I know is I’m breathing, all I can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing, all we can do is keep breathing.’

Ingrid Michaelson

20.51

After standing at the check in desk for an hour and a quarter waiting for someone to come and check us in, I have a boarding pass and a luggage label.  I was getting quite frustrated and concerned that I would miss my flight, until, after 45 minutes, someone asked which airline I, and those around me, was waiting for.  A handsome man answered that he needed Swiss Air and ‘this charming young lady needs BA’.  I’m not sure I’ve ever been described as charming before, but I’m going with it.

Obviously after that I had to talk to him a bit, if only to pass the time until the BA rep turned up (there’s only so many times you can hear  “They are just coming in a few minutes” before you start to go slightly mental.)  I discovered that he is flying to Zurich (I’ll see you in Zurich Green Wing fans) and then onto Bangkok where he has lived for 6 years.  Originally from Shrewsbury he now has more of an international accent and works for a large hotel company.  His job involves scouting around different parts of the world for new opportunities – either mergers and take overs or new builds – promoting the experiences in that area.  He’s just had a not so great time in Zanzibar and I know have a rough idea of where to avoid when I go for my 29th birthday in February.  He has itchy feet and is thinking about moving but has a good life, with lots of freebies, which he is reluctant to give up at this stage.   A pleasant way to spend 40 or so minutes, I have no idea what his name was and since Swiss Air had not arrived to check him in and I had my ticket sorted, I had no reason to hang around the desk talking further.  Perhaps serendipity will mean that he chances upon this blog, so if he does… Hello!  I was at the airport with you, send me a message.

Unlikely, but it is a small world, as was shown by the next person I sat next to, an Englishman presumably in his 60s.  Over the course of a 10 minute conversation with him I discovered that his father was in the same hospice as mine is, he went to school down the road from where my father grew up, his son studied at Newcastle University too and I might well know his son as he works where I used to and is in a band with people I know.

One week.


There are things that I really hate doing sometimes. I hate washing up if it’s hot outside. I hate running. I hate feeling like I’m not in control. I hate having to walk dogs – it really stresses me out after a bad experience when I was little, I hate writing job applications. And I really hate asking people for money that they owe me. I’m now in my last week in England for a while and I still have lots to do. I’ve got a shopping list of about 20 things I still need to get but I’m running low on cash.

My ex boyfriend has had plenty of warning of when I would need the money by and he’s been off work (his choice, not sickness) and so hasn’t really got it to give to me. I’m getting paid a little from my old job, but not until I’ve gone. I’m getting some money from the school, but not until I’m there. I don’t want to borrow more money from friends or family that I’m not going to be in a position to pay back for a while when he knew he had to get this money to me.

It’s making my last week really stressful. I’ve got family to visit, packing to do. I’m not sure if I’ve got to much stuff for my weight allowance, I’m coming to terms with the idea that I’ve seen my grandmother for the last time (she’s 99 and ¾, so that’s not just being pessimistic, it’s a very strong likelihood), that I’m going to miss a big chunk of my nieces’ and nephews’ lives, that my dad needs more support than he is willing to admit and I’m leaving my siblings to sort that out without me, that I may not have the opportunity to go to my best friend’s wedding, that I’m heading to somewhere that is completely alien with no one I know and now I feel guilty because I’ve told my ex boyfriend’s mum that he owes me lots of money and would she be able to help out?

I know that he’s been trying to pay me the money and he has given me some of it, but I had budgeted for him giving me the rest, as he said he would. And now that’s gone wrong and I’m not in control of what I need to be. As I mentioned before I hate that. His mum is probably going to help out and then I don’t have to worry about it any more, but I still feel guilty, like I’ve betrayed him by telling her.

I also feel guilty that I’m storing lots of stuff at my mum’s house and so it’s a bit chaotic for her at the moment. I know she doesn’t really mind too much and she now has access to a substantial DVD collection, but when you move 9 years of your life into boxes in cupboards, you can’t help but feel that you are infringing on someone else’s life.

There have been some positives in this past week – I’ve spent time with one neice and nephew and am going to see the others on Tuesday, I’ve had a good day with the ancient grandmother – she recognised me, looked highly irritated when I suggested she was 120, told her everybody’s news and she told me she loved me before I left. I’ve started the ball rolling for the support for dad (with the help of some of his very lovely friends) and he’s already sounding better than he did before and apparently feeling so. I’ve spent a lovely day with the best friend who I’ve not seen for a stupid amount of time and it was like no time has passed. I’ve even given her some centre piece ideas for the wedding and have called upon a standby date for the wedding in case I can get back over for it. I’ve been to my little brother’s housewarming bbq, made some chocolate orange brownies, seen a shooting star and looked after some chickens. I’ve also been in touch with three of the other teachers who will be in Tanzania with me, so hopefully that will ease the way.

Next week I’ll see more relatives, hopefully some school friends and finish packing. Then seven days from now, I’ll be heading to Heathrow, freaking out a fair bit no doubt, taking travel sickness tablets and wondering what on earth I’ve let myself in for.