Thursday, December 10, 2015

Being in Malaysia


Carol checking a camera trap on the trail

Early October I arrived in Kuala Lumpur for work. The first day I spent in TRAFFIC’s regional office in nearby Petaling Jaya. It was a great chance to meet colleagues and get a better understanding of how Regional Offices and Headquarters work together.


The following three days were spent at a fundraising conference with TRAFFIC’s partner organisation, WWF. There were nearly 100 delegates from the region sharing experiences – success stories and challenges. The work done by WWF and TRAFFIC in Asia Pacific is tremendously important. Around 50% of the world’s species live in the Asia Pacific countries, and it is home to some of the most fantastic (and threatened) rainforests.  It was put very clearly at the conference why conservation action is so important in this region:

There is no sustainable planet earth without a sustainable Asia Pacific.

We learned about the Sumatran rhino relocation effort, now desperate before the last few of these animals are lost forever as their home range has been converted from forest to palm plantation. We heard about the campaign to save the Snow Leopard, the programme to double the number of the world’s Tigers (whose numbers are going up in some regions, but not in Malaysia), and about many other projects unique to the region.  

Walking through the rainforest
After the conference several delegates (including me) went on a field trip up to Fraser’s Hill. We explored the forests first hand, struggling with difficult paths, mosquitos and leeches. We learned from the local conservation manager, Carol, about the endemic species found there such as a lovely white orchid, and of other important fauna and flora. Fraser’s Hill is a wonderful area, and also under threat from poaching.  There are many plant and animal species that are endemic (found nowhere else), and unscrupulous collectors are keen to add rare specimens to their collections.

Fraser’s Hill is known for its birdlife, but Asian songbirds are ‘in crisis’. Songbird competitions are highly competitive (and lucrative) in Southeast Asia, and captive breeding cannot keep up with demand. Birds are trapped from the wild – endangering vulnerable species and, of course, condemning these fabulous creatures to a (sometimes quite short) life in captivity.
Fraser's Hill - the tall plants on the right are tree ferns
But it wasn’t all bad news. During our trip we enjoyed the opportunity to share our common love of nature and I managed to see two lovely rare Langurs, as well as some beautiful birds.  The field trip included WWF staff from many countries including Mongolia, New Zealand, Japan, Pakistan, and our hosts WWF Malaysia. We listened and learned, from our guide Carol, and from each other.  All of us united in our aim to ensure that we have a future as a species by not destroying the natural resources that we rely upon, and that we enjoy simply for their beauty or uniqueness.  Those people I spent a short, but important time with, are now my friends as well as colleagues.   I would love to return to Fraser’s Hill if I ever get the chance – if for no other reason than to spend some quality time bird watching!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Boots

Comfortable, practical.
Boots...
My boots, my friends.
Worn to holes, new heel, new soles.
Repaired by an expert
Whose aged hands
Have seen more shoes
And more boots
Than I can ever imagine.

My boots, my friends.
My feet are happy again.


Yes, I wrote a poem to my cowboy boots!



They deserve it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The City of Cats

Little heron, spied on my walk into the city
I have just a few days holiday to enjoy some leisure time, and I chose to fly over to Borneo. I landed in Kuching and found my accommodation (a privately owned apartment). Once settled in, the owner left for work (he’s a chef) and I went to the kitchen to get some water. Plop! As soon as I opened the door a very surprised little green lizard landed at my feet. He took one look at shot off, and has been staying out of sight ever since.

I explored a little nearby – it’s a fairly rough and ready, fishing dock area. There was a man with his daughter fishing for crabs, and the most amazing aerobatics by the barn swallows. I slept reasonably well and today I began to explore Kuching – the city of cats.

Crossing the river
Apart from the feral cats (which are in abundance), there are cafés, statues and even a museum dedicated to cats. First off I needed some breakfast. It was raining, but maybe it would ease off quickly like it had in KL. Wrong! I was drenched, through to the skin (despite my raincoat) in minutes. I had breakfast and headed back to the apartment to dry off, passing the market where I bought a watermelon and saw pig nosed turtles for sale (illegally). I went back into the city and spent the rest of the day walking round. I wandered along the river front and an elderly man in a small motorised boat waved. I joined the queue for the boat and we crossed the river. The tradition is you cross the river to buy cakes. I did – but instead of turning right, I went left to the ‘fort’.

Cake!
wandered along a road that seemed to go nowhere, to nothing.  I think I missed the main attraction. As I retraced my steps, I saw glossy starlings, sunbirds and more swallows. Having finally purchased a very colourful cake, I went back across the river again and continued exploring the city.

I navigated my way to Reservoir Park. As I approached, passing the ‘Kuching Pensioners Club’, a charming, elderly man stopped and spoke to me. He had worked in the medical core when Malaysia was under British rule. He introduced me to his daughter who was about seven years old. If it was his daughter and not his granddaughter, then I am mightily impressed! Oh, and he had a cat. We shook hands, instant friends. I wish I had photographed him.
Welcome to the city of cats

The Reservoir Park birdlife was vocal, but elusive, though I was lucky enough to spy a collared kingfisher. In the water I saw several turtles surface and disappear quickly; very smart move given what I’d seen that morning.

I eventually walked back to the apartment with aching feet and sore ankles, having covered several hot, sticky miles during the day. Supper concluded with cake for dessert, of course. Tomorrow is another day!

PS - at least the torrential rain cleared the haze for a  while!


All photos (C) Carolyn Sheppard.



Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The haze

The haze from above
One thing I was warned about before my visit to Malaysia was the haze. The haze looks like fog or mist. It is in fact the dispersed smoke of fires burning in Indonesia that are blown across the ocean to settle on the Malaysian Peninsular (and other places) like a soft, choking blanket.

About one in twenty people are wearing face masks and some days are worse than others (today was a mask day for me). When it rains the haze clears a little, and on higher ground it's not so bad, but it is not good for anyone.

I was told that the haze is not just affecting people by causing increased respiratory problems but must be affecting the wildlife too. The lack of sunshine has also affected vegetable crops and the vegetables are smaller, and increasing in price.

Afternoon sunshine, filtered
The haze is something I had heard about, but didn't know much about. The forest fires that are burning in Indonesia are not just the clearance of forest that is burned and then goes out - the fires are burning on peat and go into the ground, with thick, intense smoke pouring out for months.

This is a multiple tragedy - not only are people and animals suffering from the smoke, but we are losing irreplaceable rain forest to 'slash and burn' land clearance for palm oil farming.

A typical day here the air quality rating is perhaps around 150. Anything above 100 is 'concerning', and in some areas it's nearly up to 200. Schools are being closed - children not allowed to go out.

I can't help wondering what the long-term effect of this will be. The fires have been burning for months and there is talk of it not ending before March next year - and then it starts all over again just a few months later.  My friend who lives in Kalimantan, where the fires are, says that they have been burning since August. All those months of reduced sunlight, of breathing air full of particles that damage people and animals in ways we just don't know. Will we see a long term impact beyond the obvious? I wonder what effect it has on women (and animals) that are pregnant, and on the plants. We rely on a balanced ecosystem that is being perverted by humanity in ways beyond our imagination.

The haze compounds Kuala Lumpur's
existing emissions problems
The forests are being cleared so that more palm oil can be grown. Palm oil is in thousands of products - many of which we use almost every day. The increase in palm oil plantations is fragmenting forest habitat, further endangering species like Tiger and orangutans.

In a local paper I saw an article that said something along the lines of  'Why should we change our farming practices just because consumers thousands of miles away tell us to?' We are the problem. We are the ones consuming at ever increasing rates.  'We are operating on a planet overdraft' - consuming a year's ecological budget in just nine months. Current consumption levels are not sustainable, and we don't have another planet for when this one 'runs out'.

The haze is something I didn't really know about - but in experiencing it, and in learning more, I am once more reminded that together we must adopt sustainable habits and practices that means there will be a green planet for us and future generations. We have to change now, or expect to fulfill an apocalyptic vision of dark skies and poisoned air.

Further reading:
Biggest environmental crime
Fire outbreaks could be producing more daily emissions than the entire US economy
see also LA Times article
Wikipedia explanation
Schools closed indefinitely
The haze in China
Sustainable palm oil

Other stories on Malaysia in this blog:
A typical English Village
First report from the field
The city of cats







Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A typical English village



It was a bit odd to be 'sold' the idea of Fraser's Hill as a typical English village. For one, it was built by a Scotsman. For two - it's in Malaysia.

This lovely little town, with its stone-built bungalows, clock tower and tall Scots Pines is quite charming. It is also surrounded by Malaysian rainforest, with native pines, lianas and beautiful orchids.

Though we were out of the haze in the city – rainforest is exactly that. Rain. Forest. And rainforests are full of lovely flowers and bugs. Lots of mosquitos, beetles and leeches.

Fraser’s Hill is renowned for its birds and is a major site for some rare and special species. However, being in a group of more than 20 people, bird watching wasn’t very easy.

On the first day we went for a two hour hike through the forest. The Bishop’s Trail was rough in places, but no one slipped or fell, and though we exited a bit muddy, everyone enjoyed the hike tremendously. Our guide stopped to check a camera trap which was set low on the path to track mammals. She had an extensive knowledge of the fauna and flora of the forest, showing us unusual plants, many of which are unique to the area.

When we returned from the trail we had ‘environmental games’ (which I won’t go into in detail, but it did involve me pretending to be an eagle for half an hour) and then a group supper in the Bungalow.

The group was made up of people aged 20-55, from the UK (me), New Zealand (Mike), Korea, Hong Kong, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan and Japan. Our supper was cooked by Mr Tan, a Chinese Malaysian who was one of the ‘old school’, cooking scones and tea cakes, roast chicken and the most amazing curries. During supper we told stories, sang songs, and talked.


It was a wonderful time and I have made new friends, learned many things, and walked in a rainforest! 

All my photos except the one of me and the tree, taken by another member of the group. 

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Monday, October 12, 2015

First report from the field

The journey isn’t as much fun as the destination, despite what the old adage says. But then the travel was 11 hours flying from Paris and Kuala Lumpur the destination
.
The monorail
It's my first visit to Asia, and I am experiencing a new culture and enjoying it all so far. The weather is humid and the haze is quite thick (thanks to ‘burning season’ in Indonesia). We’ve had a massive thunderstorm both days with torrential rain - today’s thunder shook the building. I worked in our South East Asia office today in Petaling Jaya (PJ) and it was lovely to meet the team and learn more about their work. I know much more about the Madagascan tortoise population than before.

I travelled to the office from my hotel in the city – two trains and a cab. The monorail is speedy and easy to navigate, and though it was crammed full, it didn’t have the same claustrophobic atmosphere I find on the London Underground – maybe just because we were above ground and in the open.

Next to my hotel is a huge shopping centre that covers many floors. There are little market stalls in the central area, small stores and department stores. Names you know, and names you wouldn’t believe. One nice aspect of the city is that there is still quite a lot of green, but it is diminishing as this vibrant city grows and takes Malaysia up a peg or two on the World Bank scale of economies.

I’m here for a conference that starts tomorrow, and next week I will work more with our office here. At the weekend we have a field trip planned and I am hoping to see lots of birds, and maybe some other wildlife too (aside from the huge brown rat who crossed my path in PJ). I’ve already seen white tailed mynahs (probably very common, but not to me) and saw a lovely honey coloured raptor from the train (sadly too far away to identify).

This is a different culture, and one with a chequered history that means it is, by definition, multi-cultural. Everyone I have met so far has been friendly and pleasant, and the food has been great. I’ve eaten in two typical Malaysian cafés - satay and noodles mmm.... Most people speak English but some with such a strong accent that my old ears struggle to understand. Maybe after three weeks I will fall into the rhythm and assimilate more easily.

Well, that’s episode one – nothing very exciting to report except the fact that I am Kuala Lumpur! Wayhey!

(C) Photography


Thursday, October 08, 2015

A decent proposal



Spanish brandy - Julio helped us demolish a nearly full
bottle of Le Panto in just two sittings
Taking Sally back to Mallorca for a week in September was a real pleasure.  We love the island and it has special significance to Sally, as she lived there on and off for more than 20 years with her partner, Orlando.

Sally used to live in a village called Genova, just outside Palma. If you go ‘downhill’ from Genova you come to Cala Major, and that’s where we stayed this year. It has a couple of beaches, and is on the Number 3 bus route which makes it easy to get into Palma.

We managed to fit in quite a bit, even though Sally is slower now (she’s 83) and has macular degeneration, which impairs her sight considerably. There’s no stopping her though!
Sally next to some framed pictures of
her designs at Theatre Zero

We managed to fit a lot in to our week – a catch up with Lizzie, a long-time friend of Sally’s and trips into Palma to the lovely Theatro Sans, where Sally is known and loved. She spent many years working with them, designing and making costumes, and teaching. We went to the theatre one evening to see a fantastic flamenco show.  We managed a beach trip and a swim in the sea, and a couple of evenings we ate in the hotel bar, down by the swimming pool.  

One evening, sitting by the pool between a lovely lemon tree and a bright red hibiscus, we got chatting with Julio, the bar manager. I don’t speak much Spanish, and Sally can understand but finds it hard to speak.  Julio didn’t speak much English, but we still had lovely conversations.

Though Julio works at the hotel, it’s not his vocation, his first love is music! He is a pianist and was a DJ at Cala Major beach, and the owner of the club asked him to help out one day at the hotel. That was 16 years ago. I told him I was a bass player, and that my daughter played music too. Julio said Sally reminded him of his mother. She is 94 and was a dancer. His father, long gone, was a circus clown.  Julio’s daughter, Maria, worked in the hotel too, when Julio had a day off. Julio came over even though he wasn’t working. We had a lovely evening, and agreed that he and I should get married. But there wasn’t enough time this trip, so if I go back next year (and Sally does want to return, of course), I have a decent proposal on the table!

How the casa used to look

We also ate at a local café where we were served by a delightful young waitress (about the same age as my daughter) who was practicing her English. We ate there three times, for light lunches, and on our last day she was there with a friend on her day off. Even so she came over to say hello and wish us a good journey home. Yes, we tipped her nicely, and were given a most delicious Herbas after our last meal at no charge.

How the casa looks now
It was a good week. We saw old friends, made new friends, and got some sorely needed sunshine. The saddest part of our trip was a visit to the Casa where she had lived. We knew it had been sold, but had hoped the frontage would be protected. I’m sure the house will be lovely when it’s finished, and will make someone a fabulous home, but it was sad to lose the history of Casa Martinez.

I probably won’t marry Julio, but isn’t it nice to have been asked, even in fun.  


NB – I changed Julio’s name, just in case he’s proposed to another tourist since; I wouldn’t want to embarrass him.

All photos (C) me. 


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Sunday, September 06, 2015

El Toro

Plaza de Espana

My favourite place in Seville is the Parque de María Luisa, and the Plaza de España. For those of you who may be Star Wars fans, it featured as a city on the planet Naboo.  The amazing tile work is beautiful, and if you go to Seville, it is one of the ‘must see’ locations. My friend and I, visiting for a long weekend, went to the Bull Ring – the Plaza Del Toros.


Wooden heads used for jousting
This magnificent bullring is considered to be one of the finest in Spain and is one of the oldest and most important in the world. It took around a hundred years to complete, and it looks very much like the Coliseum in Rome. The 'Catedral del Toreo' is spectacular – and shows how little we have changed over the last 2,000 years. We were given a tour of the ring, that included a visit to the museum of bullfighting. ‘There are strict rules, the bull can only be fought for 20 minutes. Then it must be killed, so that there is humane treatment’ our guide said several times, somewhat defensively I thought. 

The history of the bullfight was interesting. Originally they took place in the streets, and the slain bull’s meat was given to the poor. Consequently, the people loved bullfights, because meat was a rare treat. One king decided that he would replace it with knightly sports – the hitting of target heads with a lance, or the grabbing of a ribbon from a ring – exchanging blood sports for skill sports. But this was very elitist, compared to bullfighting and, most importantly, there was no meat for the people. As soon as that king passed on, so did his noble jousting, and back came the bullfights.

Bull leaping
Humanity has a history of challenging the bull – an animal we admire yet seek to defeat. From the ancient bull leapers, to the contemporary Pamplona Bull run  and bullfights, we seem to want to show that we can outsmart these powerful animals. Perhaps that’s it – we don’t like to think that anything is stronger than us so we must show our superiority in other ways. I’m sure there is plenty of research on the psychology of hunters; perhaps a similar psychology applies to bullfighters. 

I understand how the spectacle, the bravery and the blood may appeal to some, but not to me. I was glad we visited and gained an understanding of the history, of how it evolved and why, for so many, it was (and is) so popular. But I remain against the practice of taunting, spearing, and killing of animals purely for our entertainment.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Dinosaurs, sharks and children

Like me, many mothers with sons are likely to have an ‘above average’ knowledge of dinosaurs and sharks.  Some of this knowledge stays with you even as the boys grow into men – and some of it stays with them no doubt, if not crowded out by hormones etc.

Aside from the seminal film ‘Jaws’ tainting the Great White with a human-hating personality, and the dubious invention of ‘Sharktopus’, most of what I have seen on sharks is documentary. My son was riveted by Discovery Channel’s Shark Week and we had at least two model sharks (though seriously outmatched by a whole zoo of plastic dinosaurs). 

Ichthyosaur
I visit the Cambridge University museums often – particularly the Sedgwick which houses prehistoric relics from the region and a full-size replica of an iguanodon skeleton. I love looking at the model recreations of small dinosaurs, and the skeletal remains of ichthyosaurs that are a step towards our modern sharks. I say modern, but sharks in fact pre-date dinosaurs by several million years.

Sharks are apex predators – an essential part of the complex ecosystems that live in our oceans. Though I’m relieved that the megalodon (a prehistoric shark which might have been as long as 67 feet) is extinct, it is concerning that we are losing our current populations of sharks. At current rates several species may join the megalodon in extinction very soon.

Why? What is happening to our sharks, and what is the impact of losing them? This apex predator is itself being predated. It is being hunted and consumed by an animal with no predator to manage its population – or its hunger for wildlife: humans. Millions of sharks are fished for their meat, skin and liver oil, whilst some are taken just for their fins.

https://flic.kr/p/7yuPzM
Shark fishing
Many are aware of the precarious nature of fish stocks in our oceans and fishing quotas, marine reserves and many other regulations have been put into place to try and preserve our dwindling wild fish stocks. But shark fishing (and bycatch, where sharks are incidentally caught when fishing for other species) has been largely unregulated until relatively recently.

Sharks continue to fascinate me – they are living prehistoric relics, essential to the balance of life in the ocean. Sharks, rays and chimaera (another close relative) are now under threat, and it’s not just the Asian market for shark fin soup that is driving their decline. Europe’s penchant for eating skate and many other fish products that contain shark meat is contributing to the decline of these amazing creatures (Europe is in fact the third largest consumer of wildlife products after Asia and the USA).

If you have time, listen to Glenn in the video below talking about the work that he and his team are doing. It’s thanks to passionate individuals like Glenn and the many like him in conservation organisations around the world, that we might actually stand a chance of saving endangered species.



What can you do? You can support wildlife charities, you can sign petitions and lobby government to protect our oceans. You can eat only MSC certified fish, and learn more about our oceans so that you can make informed choices on what seafood you choose to consume - and educate your children. It’s their world we are destroying.

I loved learning about dinosaurs as a child and as a mother. I love learning about sharks and other wildlife as a conservation professional. I do hope that we can help preserve these less than loveable creatures for the sake of our children, and the planet.

Further reading:
Picture credits:
Ichthyosaur: http://walkingwith.wikia.com/wiki/Ichthyosaurs
Shark and fisherman: https://www.flickr.com/photos/zjmac - with kind permission

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tea with Aunt May


What better way to occupy ourselves on a Bank Holiday Monday than to go to the park with a super bouncy ball! My friend Chris and I had done some serious shelf-organising (and dust-rearranging) and needed some fresh air. A trip to the local park with a rubber ball seemed like a good way to blow away the cobwebs we’d accumulated from the morning’s houseworkery.

Picture this – two senior women playing bouncy ball in the park. Then along comes May, on her electric buggy, complete with Sally the Yorkshire terrier. May drove up to us and said ‘Can I play?’ Of course!  So we included May in the game and she wasn’t at all bad, though it was harder for her to retrieve missed catches as she climbed out of her buggy to fetch the ball. She was a good thrower though, and we had a fun fifteen minutes. ‘Good exercise for me to get out of the chair,’ she said ‘I used to love playing ball with my nephews’.

 After a bit May became tired and waved a cheery goodbye, thanking us for including her in our game. 10 year old Sally climbed back on board and away they drove. I watched her trundle towards the park gates, and stop. The battery to her nifty vehicle had run flat. She was extremely embarrassed, but very grateful when we offered to push her home. It wasn’t far, so Chris and I took it in turns to get her home.
May is 95 years old. She certainly didn’t look it and although she asked us where we live a couple of times, on the whole she was bright, alert, and a lovely character. ‘Would you like to come in for a cup of tea when we get home?’ she asked. We said yes, and we needed it after pushing the heavy buggy. Thank goodness she didn’t live at the top of a hill!

We went down the road, then turned down a little lane. At the bottom was her tiny little terrace house; almost cottage like. She’d lived in it since 1970, originally with her father and older sister. She showed us in and instructed us to visit the garden – it was delightful! Narrow but well-tended, with Solomon’s seal, bleeding heart, peony and some beautiful shrubs, tomatoes in the greenhouse, rhubarb and runner beans in the beds; it was evident she has a green thumb. ‘But I get a chap in once a week, to help out.’  

Whilst we were in the garden, she went back out the front of the house and put her buggy on charge. She’d only ever run out of juice once before she said, about 20 years ago.  

We were given tea and cake (she didn’t make it – ‘can’t stand cooking’) and sat down for a chat in a homely little front-room full of bits and pieces. Not nick knacks or ‘tut’ (as my Welsh relative insists on calling such paraphernalia) but papers, books, photographs and a magnificent old bracket clock. We had noted a photograph of her in evening dress with a man with a huge gold chain around his neck – her father, it turned out – the Mayor of Poplar in his day.

She had never married, and nor had her sister. Her mother had been blind and so the girls had taken on family duties. May had joined the RAF then trained as a nurse whilst her sister cared for her parents. ‘Never had time for men’ she said. She was grateful for our taking her home and no doubt the chance for a natter, and we were grateful for the tea and cake and the opportunity to meet such an interesting lady. I’m sure she would have had many more tales to tell, if we had been able to stay longer.

An unplanned afternoon, but tea with Aunt May was very pleasant indeed.

Photo: Priory Gardens, from www.rightmove.co.uk 



Monday, April 13, 2015

By the sea


Happisburgh
I love being by the sea. I try to make it to the seaside  at least once every year - more if I can. Not always a seaside holiday, but a visit just long enough to hear that crash of surf, to taste the tang of salt in the air, and to enjoy the view of open sea and beach.

Today I went to Happisburg (check pronounciation, it'll amaze) in Norfolk. Only a short visit, but long enough to let my eyes stretch over the blue - for the sky and the sea to meet, for clouds to loom and lower, and for distant seagulls to appear like flotsam upon the waves. I got my fix.

Many years ago I wrote a song with the lines 'I hear the sea and it calls to me, I feel the sea and it draws me in, I am beckoned by the ocean like the wolf is by the moon'. That is how I feel when I see the sea - it's like the sirens are there, calling me, saying come into the water, into the arms of the loving ocean. Of course I don't go, I am tied to the mast of reality and the call is like an echo, not the irresistible voice of the siren but a memory of the desire.
Brighton - our vanity in ruins

That may sound a little crazy, but how many people do you know who want to live or retire and be by the sea? Why do we populate the shores of this small island where our houses might (and do) fall into the sea, where a rising tide can flood our homes, and where the storms can strike our presence from the very soil upon which we build? I think it is an island people thing. This is a small country, and wherever you are you don't have to go too far to find the sea.

I don't want to retire to the seaside though; I love the remote beaches where no penny-arcade has yet dared to plant its glittering lights, yet I fear the bleak emptiness of isolation and the power of a sea unchecked. There must be some place that fits between the two - not too commercial, yet not too remote, but I haven't found it yet.

Seaside visits do me just fine in the meantime. I can birdwatch, if the weather is fine I can paddle or swim, and if I were to have children with me again (and even if I did not), then I could build sandcastles and a mock Stonehenge from beach stones and driftwood.

If you want to see me thoughtful, but in truth happy, just take me to the sea.

Photos: all (C) Carolyn Sheppard.

Letter to Philip



Dear Phil

Before I start my letter, just a quick aside to anyone reading this who isn’t you. If you are wondering why I am writing to my brother on here, it’s quite simple. I don’t know where he is so this is how I write to him. 

I was reminded of something that happened when we were kids. My friend told me about a girl who walked into a pond covered in duckweed and hadn’t realised it wasn’t solid ground. I remember Nick’s dog, Dusty, doing almost the same thing at Hope Cove. At least I think that’s where it was – where the in-shore pond by the rocks that was filled with weed when the tide went out looked like a small green lawn. And Dusty, enthusiastic dog that she was, ran full pelt into it expecting it to be solid ground. Dog’s faces can show surprise.

Hope Cove
It was good to have those two dogs, Dusty and Petra, in our childhood. I remember Petra jumping from the bridge at the Pig and Whistle on the way down to Devon. We would often stop there as our half-way point. No M4 in those days. Were we in a big old Humber, or were we in the Reliant?  I only just remember the Reliant, sliding about in the back on yellow plastic mats. No seats, let alone seat belts.

I’m sure you remember these things better than I do; my memories of childhood aren’t that many. I remember certain things that could be constructed memories (from stories or photographs), and I remember things that can only have been my memories – such as riding a tricycle in the ward at Great Ormond Street hospital, and a huge room where I had to go with mum for ‘breathing practice’.
Sally told me about taking me to the psychiatrist for my asthma – and of me rolling out plasticine into long rolls. “Very phallic” the doc is supposed to have said. And mother, now, says ‘and of course I just plonked you into a bath with your brother. Phallic indeed – what else can you do with plasticine except roll it out?’  Although I would argue that now (I make faces and animals out of blu-tac all the time), I would think when I was four it probably was all I could do with it. I don’t think sharing a bath when we were kids was the cause of my asthma somehow. 

Why am I going over these memories? Because they are far and few between I guess, and maybe me talking about some of the stuff I do remember will trigger more memories, and some in you too. Hopefully good ones.  

Enough of the past – a quick update on my life: My new job is with a wildlife conservation charity. I love fundraising; some people think it’s a horrible job about just asking people for money, but it’s about a lot more than that to me. It’s about taking responsibility, and taking action. I enjoyed my time at the medical research charity, but I’m back in the area that I feel most passionate about, so I am happy, even though this job is very busy and demanding. I am learning a lot too. It’s all good; I have never liked being bored in a job. 

Well, they say that internet posts shouldn’t be much more than 500 words, so I guess letters on line shouldn’t either.

I know it’s your choice to remain unfound, and I respect that Phil. But I do still think of you, often. 

Photo credit: www.open.edu