Thursday, 31 December 2009

A Dance to the Blue Moon


I wish you all, wherever you may be, the most wonderful New Year ever.  I hope that every precious dream comes true for you in 2010.


blue moon dance


For the start of this new decade, I’d like to paraphrase the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman……

More often than not, we tend to spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this blue moon year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives not looking for flaws, but for potential.





Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Krismasi Njema!



christmas bird 

Sing hey!  Sing hey!
For Christmas Day;
Twine mistletoe and holly.
For friendship glows
In winter snows,
And so let's all be jolly!


norfolk snow

I send love and hugs and the warmest of wishes from my world to yours for the most wonderful Christmas ever!

chistmas 09

It’s a white Christmas here in Norfolk, both inside and out….

holkham beach.snow

 I hope that everything you wish for comes true and that 2010 brings you huge dollops of love, laughter and peace.  I’ve missed my special blogworld friends madly and look forward so much to a big catch-up in the New Year.  Jet-propelled kisses to you all!

 cliveden & norfolk snow 041

Baby, it’s brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr outside!

cliveden & norfolk snow 004

A Merry Christmas to everyone!  A Happy New Year to the world!

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A very special treasure


I just had to pop back in to show you all this most exquisite of drawings by my special sisterfriend Ces.  Ces is currently working on a series of exceptionally wonderful drawings entitled The Secret Society of Oaks where she depicts her sisterfriends as Oak Nymphs and today she gave me this most precious of gifts!   Here is Queen Nymph #10 of the series…and it is ME! 

Can you believe the beautiful detail?  Look at the bracelet on my left arm - see the pen and brush next to the acorn (I’m planting an oak tree - Quercus robur - in Ces’ honour in the garden of our new home)  Then there is the quill and one-day-to-be-published-book necklace, and the zebra charm on my right arm.  Look there…see my friends from Africa sitting on the twig?  And over there is the Land Rover my sister and I drove all the way from Cape Town to Uganda.  Oh, and see the Mountains of the Moon?  And yes, exotic flamingo and graceful giraffe and wise elephant – my favourites!  And there is our house, and over there Lake Victoria.  Oh, there are more of the things I love – see them? Safaris and picnics, travel and sunshine and friends.   Just perfectly perfect. 

All this extraordinary detail on a tiny ATC card measuring just 2.5” x 3.5”!   That Ces – she is singular!  Do pop over to Ces and Her Dishes to see the other nymphs in the series – each and every one as exquisite and as beautifully detailed as my own most priceless of treasures.


Ces nymph Tessa

Thank you, darling Ces – thank you!

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Soul food and farewell for now


"There is nothing - absolutely nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Ratty, The Wind in the Willows


mombasa.08High Tide.

Do you remember, when you were young, coming inside after wonderfully busy day and the sun-tingling, sleepy-happy feeling you had and, most of all, how absolutely starving hungry you were?

oosterval Low Tide.

Our particular piece of paradise is called Oestervaal. An old shooting lodge with stables and barns that were converted by my parents and close friends into a treasured place to spend our holidays. Oestervaal's lime-washed houses with their gables, buttressed walls, sash windows and bougainvillea-filled courtyards sit snugly - and oh so prettily - on the shores of Langebaan Lagoon in the Western Cape. Part of a  protected Wildlife and Marine Reserve, there is no electricity, no telephone and no television at Oestervaal. The only boats allowed must be under sail. There is a canon pointing at the lagoon, an enormous ancient anchor sits like a sculpture in the middle of the main lawn and the ship's bell of the Thermopylae, wrecked off Mouille Point in 1899 hangs between two white-washed pillars. The old stables with their huge arched doors are used now to house the boats and sometimes, at night when the moon is full, they creak open to reveal the ghost of gentle Rachel, the fisherman’s wife, rocking back and forth in her chair in the corner as she endlessly knits…and knits…and…..knits.

As children, we swam and sailed, flew homemade kites, examined rock pools with a practised eye, bravely held buckets for the crayfish our parents sometimes caught for supper, collected a thousand precious shells and went on long and dangerous 'explorations’. Someone would draw a ‘pirate’s map’ and we’d set off in our own small, red-sailed dinghies to find treasure on some distant shore. When the South-Easter puffed up his cheeks to blow a gale and the water was too rough at high tide for the smaller boats, we’d pack a picnic and hike up to the old East India Company lookout on the hill behind the lodge. Here we’d search for fossils or old blue bottles, hold very serious bird spotting competitions or play riotous games of cowboys and Indians.

The old ship’s bell would be rung by one of our parents when it was time for us to come back from wherever we were having our adventure that day. Usually we’d crowd into The Commodore and Mrs Merry Berry’s kitchen and the kettle would be put to boil on the wood burning Welcome Dover while we draped ourselves over the huge blue and white sailcloth covered sofa under the window or around the long yellowwood table and excitedly tell the Beresfords (their proper name!) and our parents about our day. Tea was milky and smoky and slightly brackish from the well water – still, to this day, the very best tea in all the world! And then there was Mrs Merry Berry’s Particularly Piggy Pear Pie. Well, if ever there was a pie that makes your taste buds hit the stratosphere, then this was the one!




Mrs Merry Berry’s Particularly Piggy Pear Pie

  • 600g/1½ lb ready-made shortcrust pastry
  • caster sugar (for sprinkling)
  • 6 fresh pears
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • *3 sprigs rosemary
  • finely grated zest and juice of ½ a lemon
  • 110g/4oz caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 egg
  • 30g/1oz butter

Grease a 22cm/9in ovenproof dish.

Roll out two thirds of the pastry on a floured work surface and line the pie dish.

Peel, quarter and core the pears, then slice thickly into a bowl.

Mix together the sugar, lemon juice and zest and stir gently into the pears

Place the pear slices into the lined pie dish. Dot with butter, and sprinkle with the cinnamon and rosemary.

Roll out the remaining pastry and put on top of the sliced pears. Pinch the edges to sea. Make a small hole and four radiating cuts in the top to allow steam to escape.

Make decorations from any pastry trimmings if you’re in the mood and brush with the lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake at 190C/375F/Gas 5 for 30-40 mins until the fruit is tender and the top is golden brown.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream.


*Herbs are delicious with sweet dishes. To get a more intense rosemary flavour, infuse the sugar with a couple of sprigs for a month before you use it. You can also do this with vanilla or lavender.

I do hope you enjoy your very own Particularly Piggy Pear Pie!  And finally, a personal note from me to my very special blogpals:


Dearest blogfriends ~

This is just a little note to say that I’ve decided that I should take a short sabbatical from the blogosphere. I’ve found that with our imminent move, along with the slightly zombie-fied state in which I find myself with the different drugs being tried on me for this wretched myeloma, I just can’t manage to properly keep up with my blog and, most important of all, my visits to your blogs.  I’m also struggling to find time, via email and/or reciprocal visits, to respond to and thank you for your comments on each of my posts. And that’s just plain rude of me!

So until we’re settled into our little house in Norfolk, with the salty tang of the sea to revive and refresh the old spirit, I must say adieu for a short time.

Your visits, comments and emails keep the heartbeat of these global friendships pulsing and I love and appreciate every single one of you. I know I will miss you all terribly during this little upheaval, but I will pop over to visit whenever I can.

I love you all – every single one of you. Totsiens for now!

Tessa xxxx

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A Plastic Plague – Blog Action Day


One day, one issue, thousands of voices.  Today is Blog Action Day where bloggers from all over the world will speak their minds about climate change.  In that context,  I’ve decided to take a kind of sideways look at how we human beings impact on our planet. 

Have you heard of the North Pacific Gyre, an area the size of a small continent, covered with floating refuse - bottles, tangles of fish nets and monofilament line, six-pack rings, cling film, deflated balloons, condoms, broken toys and other detritus.  In nine years, the North Pacific Gyre expanded from 10 to 25 times faster than models of global warming predicted and it is at least twice the size of Texas. It has expanded to the northeast into the eastern Pacific and portions of the Hawaiian archipelago – the northwest island chain and the Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument.  That is flippin’ terrifying.


Believe me, this isn’t going to be a ‘holier than thou’ diatribe about how sensationally eco-friendly  I am.   On the contrary.  I do try, but sometimes I forget.   This post is really just a memo to me.



Alan Weisman has confronted the impact of our infection of the biosphere in his fascinating and thought-provoking book ‘The World Without Us’.  The book provides a mental jolt to remind us how vulnerable and insignificant we all are compared to the long history of the earth – but it also makes us realise how much of a lasting impact our lifestyles can have on the natural world around us.  Weisman’s premise is based on an unsettling yet compelling thought experiment – what would happen to the planet if humans were to vanish from its surface overnight?  The answer is both illuminating and frightening. 

Within hours, underground train systems would flood.  Within a few weeks, untended nuclear power stations would begin to over-heat and eventually explode.  Within a few years, our cities would start to crumble and become overgrown with vegetation.  The seas would once again burst with formerly depleted fish.  Yet some of the plastic rubbish we’d tossed away would still be around for thousands of years after we’d gone.

Weisman’s hypothesis is fiction – it is highly unlikely that we’ll all disappear off the face of the planet in a puff of smoke – but it does make it clear that the durable poisons that humans have injected into the environment will persist with or without us.  Waste from nuclear generating plants, plastic polymers of all sorts, polychlorinated biphenyls, phosphate and nitrate fertilizers, and fluorocarbons - these are serious ecological issues that concern us TODAY.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Cheek to Cheek at Willow Manor



Heaven... I'm in heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek.

Heaven... I'm in heaven,
And the cares that hung around me through the week,
Seem to vanish like a gambler's lucky streak,
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek.

Oh, I love to climb a mountain,
And to reach the highest peak.
But it doesn't thrill me half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek.

Oh, I love to go out fishing
In a river or a creek.
But I don't enjoy it half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek.

Dance with me! I want my arms about you.
The charms about you
Will carry me through to...

Heaven... I'm in heaven,
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak.
And I seem to find the happiness I seek,
When we're out together dancing cheek to cheek.


Such excitement!  Have you been over to Willow Manor in the last few days?  Oh, you simply MUST!    The dazzlingly glamorous Willow is holding her 2nd annual Ball at the Manor today and…..gasping intake of breath….has invited us all to attend! 

That marvellous wit and raconteur, intellect and actor extraordinaire – not to mention meltingly-sexy-break-me-off-a-bit-of-that man about Hollywood - Hugh Laurie has persuaded me to drop Guy for the evening and go to the ball with him instead. Who could possibly refuse? Certainly not me! (Guy will just have to get over it, stop sulking - and lend us his favourite car)


hugh-laurieI think I’ll ask him to shave first – all that fuzz is just too tickly. 


I plan on wearing the little Galliano number I bought last week while browsing through his collection at the rue Saint-Honoré store in Paris last month.  I love the freedom it gives me to dance, dance, dance!

gallianoVery practical - won’t rip while doing the tango.

Of course, I can’t go anywhere without my Paloma Picasso.  The scent lingers subtly, dahlings.

paloma Hmmm…the memories linger on.

And my mother’s pearls – so simple, so elegant.

mypearls First mother, then daughter….and on and on.

And my Louboutins…..which I shall probably kick off as the night progresses.

louboutin shoes Elevation from 5’10”  to  6’ and a bit.


Then there is the car - thanks Guy…owe you one.  And yes, Hugh CAN drive!  And no, we can’t get a lift in Elizabeth’s Bugatti.  Now stop yelling and go read your FT for goodness’ sake!

morgan08         Dream machine – Morgan roadster


Oh, look Hugh has ‘bunched’ me!  Delicious man!

flowers So romantic!


And  most important of all – a gift for the hostess.  I think a set of beautifully packaged Jo Malone home fragrances would be just right for the lovely Willow, don’t you?




Oh, and don’t forget you’re all invited back to mine for smoked salmon Eggs Benedict and freshly brewed coffee after we’ve danced the night away and the sun has risen high in the sky!



See you all at the Willow Manor Ball!

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Sisterhood Award


Deborah AwardTextD

Way back, when I first started blogging, I came across a woman who - apart from being the most exceptional artist I encountered for a very long time - was witty, passionate, enormously erudite, sometimes controversial, deeply knowledgeable on many diverse subjects and, above all, a warm and generous soul. I used to sneak in to look at her latest paintings, her intricate and highly detailed drawings and to read her fascinating and eloquent posts but was too awe-struck to leave a comment in case I made an ass of myself. Eventually of course, I got less blog-shy and wrote in her comments section and we became blog pals.

Last week, much to my astonished delight, Ces included me amongst some of the most inspiring and amazing women imaginable with a very special award she had created in honour of her dear sisterfriend Deborah of Midlife Poet. Here Ces explains the significance of this dazzling award in her own inimitable way:

So today I am planting another tree. The Quercus shumardii or Shumard Oak. It is a handsome large tree with straight axis and broad, rounded open crown. It withstands strong hurricane winds, extreme heat, is tall and straight and just plain beautiful. It fits it's honoree, my dearest sisterfriend Deborah, poet, friend, not just a mother but a soldier's mother too. Oh, the sleepless nights, the anxiety and worries, yet she is perpetually pleasant and cheerful, kind and gentle, diplomatic and tactful. She exudes courage, hope and faith. I have more trees to plant but rest assured those who have virtual trees and acorns planted and distributed in their honor have one common virtue, they are loyal friends regardless of race, creed, political affiliations and geography. Here, I honor womanhood and friendship and there is nothing more wondrous a blessing for anyone than for a friend who came and never left your side.”

Ces gave this award to those she considers to be good friends and asked that we pass it on as an acknowledgement of womanhood and sisterhood to those we’ve come to value most especially during our time in the Blogworld.

There are so many remarkable women whose blog company I treasure and whom I have grown to think of as true friends during our exchanges in this amazing world even though I may never have actually met them in person. Someday, somewhere, I know we will meet, but in the meantime I would love to pass this friendship award on to these very special ladies in acknowledgement of how much I value their visits to, and comments on my Armadillo world.

Linda of Vulture Peak Muse

Lakeviewer (Rosario) of sixtyfivewhatnow

Elizabeth of The World Examining Works (and About New York)


Lori of lori times five

Holly of Your Mother Knows But Won't Tell You..

Karen of Border Town Notes

Val of monkeys on the roof

Jinksy of Napple Notes

Angela of Letters from Usedom

Nicky of Absolute Vanilla... (and Atyllah)


Cynthia of Oasis Writing Link

Reya of After the Gold Puppy

KJ of OPTIONS Associates: For a Better World

Irene of The Green Stone Woman

Polly of Sotto Voce

Beth of Beth Kephart Books

Deb of Artshtick's Corner

And not least, to two honorary ‘sisterfriends’  - who happen to be very much male - both of whose blog friendship I also truly value.

Mr Cuban of A Cuban In London

Maithri of The Soaring Impulse

To them all, and to that queen of the oak nymphs who is Ces, I raise my glass and declare “To Friendship!”  Do please, if you feel inclined, pass this award on to your friends so we can make this global circle even larger!

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Shock of the New


“The animal brains and pulverised jet engine are a hit with the critics, but if you want to look like a true connoisseur, pretend to see shapes in a swirly golden mural”    Leo Benedictus, Guardian.

The Turner Prize 2009 Exhibition opened at the Tate Britain on Tuesday and I’m dragging a kicking and screaming Guy - rigorous traditionalist - there next week. (Actually, I think he just pretends to be grumpy when in reality he’s secretly enthralled by it all. Either way, he’ll most certainly have a great deal to say about it afterwards!)

Turner Prize Hmmm?  Imaginative logo design? 



It’s all subjective, right?

Then what, exactly, is art?

Of course, that question has been hummed and haa’ed over for centuries. What is sublime to one person can be garbage to another. Art, like life itself, evolves and changes – but has it now become identified with all that is found, filmed, unlaundered, pickled, switched on and off, or pooped and scooped?

 lights going on and off - Martin Creed 2001 Turner Prize ‘Lights going on….                                                                                       and off. '   Installation by Martin Creed

Did Antony Gormley get it right when he said “these days, art can be anything” at the start of his Fourth Plinth project in Trafalgar Square?

Victor-Martinez-on-the-fo-001Victor Martinez on the Fourth Plinth, July 2009

Perhaps you’re seduced by Miroslaw Balka’s Oasis at the Tate Modern where he suggests a domestic setting in which the daily rituals of human existence are played out? Eating and sleeping, love and death are evoked using materials which have a particular resonance for Balka such as milk, wooden planks from his childhood home and pine needles salvaged from the tree that grew outside his window.


Maybe you feel outraged that the Charles Wollaston Award for ‘most distinguished work’ at the 2008 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition went to a broom handle candle by Gavin Turk. Dumb Candle, a sawn-off broom handle carved into the shape of an extinguished candle, was praised for both its simplicity and subtlety. I have to admit my jaw still drops in astonishment at the thought that this was considered worthy of the £25,000 prize.

Dumb CandleDumb Candle

The Wollaston Award this year went to an audio visual clip called Turning the Place Over by Richard Wilson RA.  Fascinating though it certainly was, I couldn’t help wondering when it was that film crossed over from its own world to compete with painting, drawing, sculpture and printmaking.

turning the place.Turning the Place Over

Where in your home would you hang Cadet Congo Ganja by Tim Bailey? The artist states that it is a fusion of Mr Kurtz from Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' and Colonel Kurtz from Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now’.  This is one of the painting which drove the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones to exclaim “What I see in works such as this is more of the same deadening irony, disbelief and smallness of mind that has reduced painting in modern Britain to a stale, repetitive, self-parodic eunuch.” Harsh words indeed, but do you agree?

Cadet Congo Ganja Cadet Congo Ganja

Does Tracy Emin’s My Bed do it for you? Is it art, self-absorbed disclosure or plagiarism?  Or all three?  Did Emin know, as she was arranging the detritus of her life on and around her bed, that artist Robert Rauschenberg had put his own bed into a museum in 1955?  Rauschenberg’s bed, by contrast, is splattered with paint and has Twombly-like pencil scrawls on it - possibly done by Twombly - so, in my opinion, his bears a closer relationship to art than Emin’s soiled mess. 

tracey-emin-my-bedMy Bed

How about this one? Untitled by Maurizio Cattelan. This stuffed horse lies in an otherwise empty room, impaled through one flank by a placard that reads 'INRI'. Apparently Pontius Pilate had a similar sign hung above Jesus on the cross – it means 'Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews'.

Untitled Untitled

From the horrific to the faintly ridiculous.  Takashi Murakami’s ‘sculpture’ Hiropon is fantastical blue-haired woman skipping with a rope made from her own breast milk.  Is it art or merely an enlarged and enhanced Barbie doll?

Pop-Life-Art-In-A-Materia-001 Hiropon

Despite the fact that he recoils from the vagaries of the abstract, this is Guy’s current favourite painting.  On the reverse are these words:  Dear Mazee – this is a cement mixer that I painted for you at Stickee Fingers – love James.  The artist is our grandson.

cement mixer 001 Cement Mixer by James (aged 3)

Is it the impulse of art to explore beyond surfaces, to question appearances, to bend the conventional into unexpected shapes? Because so many experts have shrunk from defining the concept, are the terms ‘art’ and ‘artist’ up for grabs? It has even become common for critics to resort to such absurd statements as "If an artist says it's art, it's art" (Roberta Smith in the New York Times.)  However, if a work makes no sense at all to an ordinary person without the intervention of an expert, is it outside the realm of art?

Maybe things will become a little clearer after I’ve been to the Turner Prize exhibition, but right now I ‘m still stymied, frankly.

What do you think?



Monday, 5 October 2009

Germs – Illustration Friday on Monday


I’m always in a state of hurry these days, it seems, so this is my hurried take on the Illustration Friday prompt.  (Someone somewhere once said, ‘One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time’.  Too true!)


smooch 002

Kisses blown are kisses wasted.

Kisses aren't kisses unless they are tasted.

Kisses spread germs and germs are hated.

So kiss me baby; I'm vaccinated.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

It’s existential, honey…and it tastes good, too.


The picture below is my response to an irresistible challenge initiated by the highly original and accomplished artist, Susan Sanford of Art Spark Theatre fame. Susan’s challenge was to complete her drawing seen here, and then to link back to her site when done. Do whizz over to Art Spark Theatre to see other participant’s entries, or to take up the challenge yourselves!




My mother gave me this Penguin edition back in 1978.  Incidentally, it contains a recipe for Hashish Fudge ("obtaining the cannabis may present certain difficulties...").  The cover is a painting by Matisse. 

Originally published in 1954, the Alice B. Toklas Cook Book is a culinary memoir of Stein and Toklas’ life together, from the salon years, hosting the era’s artistic and literary elite in their famous Paris apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus, through to the years when France was occupied by the Nazis.

Toklas's rich mixture of menus and memories of meals shared with such famous friends as Wilder, Picasso and Hemingway is truly a literary and culinary treasure. I love it, and I’m sure you would too!

Here, with an amusing except from the book, is what I made for supper with friends last night:

Chapter 4 – Murder in the Kitchen

“Many times I held the thought to kill a stupid or obstinate cook, but as long as the thought was held, murder was not committed.  Then a gay and enchanting Austrian came to cook for Gertrude Stein and me.  He was a perfect cook.  Quietly and expeditiously Kasper, as I shall call him, prepared the most intricate and complicated dishes for us, nothing was too much trouble for him to undertake.  He would make us ice cream in individual moulds in the form of eggs on a nest of coloured spun sugar.  He delighted in making cakes that represented objects appropriate to each person;  a book for Gertrude Stein, a rose for Sir Francis Rose, a peacock for a very vain young artist and a little dog for me.  He used to receive the visits of an extremely pretty young girl, Lili, who looked as if she had stepped out of an Offenbach opera.  Gertrude Stein and I were delighted with them……

Gradually Kasper began to confide in me.  Life was not as happy for him has it had been.  In the beginning there was only his fiancé Lili, his angel, but now there was a second, a she-devil, who wanted him to marry her and who was threatening to kill him if he didn’t.  He continued to cook most desirably despite his  torment…..

One afternoon as Gertrude Stein and I were coming home, someone came out of our front door and passed in the courtyard.  She had small snappy dark eyes.  “The devil?”  Gertrude Stein enquired.  “Presumably,” I answered.”

To cut a long and rather pedantic (but very amusing) story short, Kasper continued to see his devil-woman at the same time as wooing Lili, but gradually the deception drove him to drink and “a resultant madness”.   Alice and Gertrude were no longer able enjoy his perfect culinary skills so rather than murdering him, Alice paid him his wages and summarily dismissed him.  The last meal he cooked for them before his alcoholic downfall was the justly famous Gypsy Goulash.  Here, for your edification and delight, is Miss Toklas’ recipe.  (It is truly scrumptious, believe me. You’ll be dancing a wild fandango after eating this!)


1 ½ lb. fillet of beef in slices of ¼ inch thickness, cut in lengths of ¼ inch width, brown in lard* with ½ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon paprika, and 1 tablespoon flour, 4 large onions sliced, ¾ lb. potatoes sliced. When the beef is lightly browned add 2 cups red wine, 1 cup sour cream, and enough bouillon to cover. Put in a covered casserole in 375ْ oven for 1 hour.  Add ½ cup sour cream before serving. Serve with noodles. Serves 4.  (*a little unsalted butter may be better for your heath! T xx)


A peppery salad of rocket (arugula), baby spinach leaves, baby tomatoes and pine nuts lightly dressed with a squirt of balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sea salt, a good drizzle of olive oil and a shave of parmesan goes beautifully with this hearty, soul warming dish.


Wednesday, 30 September 2009

A Moment of Magic


"When we look at a photograph, a moment of magic occurs. It is as if someone had laid a sheet of translucent paper over our thoughts and made a tracing of our memories."

Tom Bentkowski




Sorting through a bookshelf full of albums this morning with the intention of putting our pre-digital photographs on CD for safe-keeping before we move house, I paused for a moment when I saw this photo of Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda, taken at his inauguration in Kampala in 1996. Ah yes, I remember the day well…..



The mist curled like a gossamer ribbon through the valley and as the sun kissed the hills above it, Kampala came into focus like a city from a dream. The mosque dome shone like a polished jewel in its encircling crown of ivory minarets and the air smelled of wood smoke and eucalyptus. Clustered buildings glowed pink in early morning light and red kites soared above them like shadowy angels on gentle thermals.

Luca, our askari, waved his AK47 in the air with enthusiastic vigour and did a stomping dance of delight as he opened the gate for us. “Yoweri Museveni!” He bellowed, “FreeDOM fighter!” Then, wiping a hand down the front of his khaki jacket and smiling his familiar wide white smile, his eyes sparkling with merriment, he shook hands with each of us in turn.

As we walked from the house to join the crowd on the airfield, I heard the whack-whack thrum of a helicopter overhead and watched as its gleaming underbelly loomed large and then disappear down behind the line of trees in front of us. A gangly marabou stork, looking for a grasshopper breakfast, pecked at the grass on the verge beside the road and gave us a mad, lopsided stare as we passed him. Once the sound of the helicopter had diminished, birdsong swelled again like a cresting wave.

Idi Amin and Milton Obote had soaked this lush, sylvan country with the blood of several hundred thousand people until Museveni and his heroic bush army saved it from total devastation. This was the day he would be officially inaugurated as President of Uganda and we wanted to be there when it happened.

The airfield was ablaze with the swirling, vibrant colours of the Ugandan traditional dress and highlighted by the dazzling white kanzus which men wear for special occasions. We joined the crowd and people around us smiled and shook our hands, their faces alight with the joyful anticipation of a new day and a new dawn. The agony of decades of civil war behind them, they surged forward, taking us with them and making us theirs. We heard the pulsing drumbeat of victory and the high, melodious chant of beautiful clear voices which grew louder and stronger as we moved forward towards the podium.

Suddenly the crowd parted and in the space they left between them, a line of tall, powerful Karamojong warriors danced forward making a deep, sonorous hissing sound which rose higher and stronger until it sounded like the bottom note on a cathedral organ. Behind them, in a large, slow moving truck Museveni stood proudly, holding on to the roll bar with one hand, waving and acknowledging the surging crowd with a warmth that was palpable. He looked every inch the statesman.

As he reached the podium and climbed the steps to the microphones there was a sudden silence. I looked around at the sea of faces and, for the first time since we’d joined in the celebration, I realized ours were the only white faces amongst them. We were mazungu….but nobody had noticed. Or if they had, they had disregarded it and embraced us as theirs. My heart swelled with pride and I turned back to face the podium to listen to a hero speak.


Back to the present and strict word to self, “stop reminiscing and get back to work….!” Oh, but before I go, here is a novel by the Ugandan writer, Goretti Kyomuhendo, which you may enjoy as a departure from the ubiquitous ‘Last King of Scotland’ by Giles Foden.


Dissecting the vile consequences of life during and after civil strife can lead many authors into the quagmire of the blame game. With her novella Waiting, Kyomuhendo overcomes the need to induce universal guilt; instead she draws the reader into evocative and provocative prose that flits gently between the real and the surreal. Her haunting and gritty tale is set in Hoima, a rural town in western Uganda, during the madness-marked reign of Idi Amin.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Great Snoring Discovery


"This house," said the real estate salesman, "has both its good points and its bad points. To show you I'm honest, I'm going to tell you about both. The disadvantages are that there is a chemical plant quarter of a mile to the north and a slaughterhouse quarter of a mile to the south.

"What are the advantages?" inquired the prospective buyer.

"The advantage is that you can always tell which way the wind is blowing." replied the realtor.

Like lawyers, real estate agents are not high in the popularity stakes. That’s as the case may be, but years ago when Guy and I were looking to buy our very first house in South Africa, we made a new best friend in our agent Jilly. She was full of joie de vivre, hilariously self-deprecating and, above all, totally without artifice. In other words, she just didn’t believe in bull and was adept at showing us houses that would suit both us and, more importantly, our budget. It wasn’t her fault, then, that we ended up buying a house we couldn’t really afford. See, the thing is, after a long weeks of viewing and just not finding anything that rocked all the fleet, Jilly sighed piteously and said, “Okay, I’m going to take you for a peek at a house that has just come onto the market. It has everything on your wish list – and on mine too, for that matter - but there is no way in Hades that you can afford it. So forget about buying it. It’s strictly a ‘look and drool, but don’t touch’ house.”

Jilly unlocked the front door of No. 3 Havelock Square and motioned us through. Guy and I walked into the hallway, gazed up at the sweeping staircase, the beautiful architraves, the scrubbed wooden floors, the enormously high ceilings and huge sash windows and were both rendered speechless.


As we were leaving, I looked back at the house…..and it winked it me. I kid you not. It winked and whispered, “I’m yours.” And so it came to be that we lived there for many very happy years with our girls and two fat Labs until the time came for us to say totsiens to South Africa and head off on other adventures.

During our recent house hunt here in England, I knew that we’d never find another Havelock Square, but the cottage we found on our safari to Norfolk last weekend did make us look at each other and squeal. Well, Guy doesn’t do squealing, but he grinned widely when I did, so I knew he liked it too.

It’s called The Red House – which I like – and it’s in a tiny village called Great Snoring – which makes me laugh. It‘s a few minutes from the wild and empty Norfolk coast which means long walks and seafood feasts and lots of sailing in the summer. It’s only an hour and 40 minutes from London by train, so not far for the girls and not far for us to go to get our big city hit every now and then. It isn’t very big, but there is enough room for friends and family. Most important of all is that The Red House feels happy and looks pretty. D’you know what I mean? Yes, I’m sure you do!

Right then, let me take you on a tour of England and show you a small selection of the houses we’d seen before we found the little red one in Great Snoring.

(Important to remember, though, that ‘one man’s meat...’  All the houses shown here are truly lovely, but just not right for us.)



Lovely converted chapel, tiny courtyard garden and no room for family and friends.




Cute, but too dark and squishy inside.


Wonderful position, dreamy views, but it didn’t ‘wink’.




Adorable, but just a bit too teeny weeny.




Wrong county.




Blissful isolation.  Bit chilly.




More glorious solitude.  Too far away for weekend visits from family.




Too low for long people.




Enchanting, but looming pylon.




Almost… but not quite.

And finally……



The Red House.


sitting room




Hold thumbs that all goes according to plan and do remember, the door will always be open for my bloggy friends! If you’d like to see a little more of Norfolk, I wrote about it here: Childhood Imaginings.