Friday, 31 August 2012

Mud, mud, glorious mud!

Last weekend we went with friends to the Greenbelt Festival at Cheltenham, camping on the edge of the racecourse and being entertained by top quality acts.

It rained on the Saturday. A lot. In fact, there were hailstones.

Thankfully at this point I was safely inside a cafe, then queueing to hear Simon Mayo talk about his new book, Itch. Simon gave an entertaining talk and then was marvellous in his interaction with the children as they asked a million varied questions. Yes: we were first to hear about the book 'Itch goes to the zoo' ( unlikely sequel involving exploding elephants!) The most hilarious moment was the build up for the final boy to ask a question - only for him to ask where he could buy the book.

The tent survived the rain. My son's friend's book didn't.

On Sunday the sun came out ... for a short while ... then it became apparent that Rain + Racecourse = Mud. By the evening I gave up on wearing my crocs and walked barefoot through it: it came over my ankles in certain parts. Still, you should feel more sorry for the earthworms, whose bodies littered the field.

Monday was forecast more rain, so striking camp was done first thing. We stayed to hear Folk On, who were magnificent, as you can tell from this recording. I know, it is from 2011, but our main stage experience included this song with many of the same jokes! We were doubled over with laughter for an hour, and laughter is the best medicine for many ailments. (Especially mud.)

The rest of the weekend was filled with buying books and CDs, singing with The Wild Goose Collective, listening to Frank Skinner (whilst water dripped through the seam at the apex of the Big Top...) and bopping along to The Proclaimers. The heavens opened again whilst we watched some impro that had 5* ratings from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe on Monday afternoon, and with that we decided to wend our way home.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Little known fact

It is impossible to appreciate Sinead O'Connor singing Nothing compares to you whilst you are driving if your children are in the back of the car singing a medley of Bring me sunshine and Always look on the bright side of life (words amended to: always look on the bright side of sleep, with appropriate sound effect) at the top of their voices.

End of public service announcement.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Combining the last two posts... we present the Zoolympics-tathlon

Over lunch today the family discussed a new modern pentathlon to introduce to the Olympics. My husband was keen to find something that my son could participate in when old enough (let alone my daughter, though she was singularly uninterested in the conversation).

"What sports can we include that involve sitting down?" my husband asked, noting that those are the ones the Brits seem to be good at. Of course, we couldn't possibly include anything that is already used - that would be far too dull and boring.

"Donkeys!" he exclaimed. "We could race donkeys. Better still - onagars!"

We saw these at the zoo. They are donkeys that are faster than horses, and nigh on extinct in the wild.

"Or camels," my son chipped in.

"What about ostriches?" I asked, remembering the lovely photo of my father-in-law riding one in South Africa.

And thus the zoolympic-tathalon was created. It involves racing onagars, camels and ostriches, then some target-shooting from the back of an elephant (or a tortoise, but the elephant would probably cover the distance quicker!) Of course, some suggestions have to be discounted. Bashing the meerkats with a mallet as they stick their heads up of out of the ground is simply cruel...

I guess very few schools would have the facilities to house all the animals required, so it may prove something of an elite sport!

(I think we may have become a little over-excited by TeamGB's medals success!)

Thursday, 16 August 2012

We all went to the zoo...

It's summer; it's the holidays; it is time to indulge in days out.

So we went to the zoo.


I can't quite decide what I think about zoos. Is it right to keep animals like that, in unnatural surroundings? The first animals we saw were the elephants (my favourite) who were roaming around a dry mud pen. All I could think of were the elephants I have seen in the wild: in Ghana, where I heard them first charging down the hill breaking trees as they went; and in Zambia, where they frolicked in the river and wandered through local villages. There they lived in green, luscious land, covered in trees and vegetation and with lots of space to roam.

Is it right to keep them in a zoo?

Then again, at Chester Zoo (which was where we went!) they invest a lot in local conservationists, people who give their lives to providing the right environment for animals to prevent extinction. A lot of the animals we saw are endangered or threatened, and there is an argument that keeping them in a zoo means that we don't lose that genetic gene pool.

Surely it is right to breed these in a zoo?

Whatever the arguments, I still love seeing animals moving and prowling. My daughter and I were fortunate to see the jaguars whilst my husband and son were still inside (tee hee!), and spotting the cheetahs was a delight. The lions were stalking their cage, yawning and stretching before settling down for an afternoon snooze. The butterfly house was a delight: the colours, the lightness and the joy of seeing so many fluttering around our bodies.

But the biggest surprise relates again to our Zambian experience. It took us nearly a week's holiday in Kasanka National Park before one of the guides pointed out a sitatunga antelope to us. We saw its head poking above the marshy grass from miles away (or so it felt: the only real sighting of it was through binoculars). We were elated to have seen such a rare breed of antelope! Yet at the zoo: there was a field full of them. Not much marshland for a marsh-dwelling animal, but nevertheless a field-ful. My husband and I were delighted by them (unlike our children, who were more excited by the zebra on the other side!)

Sitatunga antelope

It was a fantastic day out: a day in glorious sunshine was just what the family needed! And even inspired my writing gene, as I was reminded of the children's story that lurks at the back of my mind involving some of these...


Maybe now I'll get round to writing it!

Monday, 13 August 2012

A journey through the last fortnight

It's    Outrageous expense in times of austerity,
but   London is open: no ticket unsold.
        Yearning for glory over world competition - there
are   Medals - first silver, then bronzes, then gold!
        People ecstatically chant: "Team GB"
 as    Invincible athletes crown years of tough training.
The  Closing ceremony celebrates all
        Smiles spread across nations: supreme joy is reigning.

(c) Catharine Withenay August 2012

Photo: (c)

Monday, 6 August 2012

Winning at 100m

It's all gone a little Olympic crazy here in the UK. After a slow start a flurry of medals (many of them gold) has lifted the spirit of the nation.

Last night saw the greatest race of a generation as eight men ran 100m, all but the injured Asafa Powell running less than 10 seconds. As they lined up at the beginning of the race three Americans and three Jamaicans were to do battle. Jamaica (of course, thank you Mr Bolt) won.

Yet I must make a little plug for one of the men defeated in the semi-final. No, not for either of the members of TeamGB (though don't get me wrong: I'd have loved them to win!) but for Mr Gerald Phiri of Zambia. Even his name makes me smile: it is so Zambian.

Of course, Zambia was one of those countries at the opening ceremony that you were grateful for, but only because it meant you were near the end of the teams to appear (just Zimbabwe and then TeamGB to come!) It had a very small number of athletes competing, most to no great avail ... but Mr Phiri stormed through his first heat to come third and automatically qualify for the semi-final.

Given the line-up for the final - some of the fastest men on earth, ever - it is no shame to go out in the semis, so well done Mr Phiri: you did Zambia proud!

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Maeve Binchy

Writing Wednesday
Not a normal Writing Wednesday, but a tribute to a wonderful storyteller, Maeve Binchy, whose death was announced yesterday.

What I have enjoyed most about Maeve Binchy's books is their readability: they are something I know I can pick up, get involved in and enjoy the tale. The tales of smalltown Irish life were realistic and gripping.

She was clearly one of those writers who wrote in order to tell a story, not in order to be a writer. I meant that in a very positive way. Her language was not elite, but neither was it simplistic. She could have been sat in the room telling me the story, for it was in words and phrases I understood and could relate to. I knew, on picking up a new book she had written, that I would enjoy several hours lost in the world she had created.

From all I have heard and read over the last couple of days she was also a lovely person, working tirelessly for charities that she loved. I hope and trust that as her legacy lives on in the wonders of her books, so too will the memories of a wonderful person.

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