Christian would love this... [I wrote this blog in 2007 - the message behind it still holds true.]
My Mum and Dad were once young things (in their early 20s) sailing across the oceans to the West Indies on a yacht called ‘Clover’. Their 2-month epic journey, in the late ’60s, was recorded on cine film (which we have yet to transfer to DVD – their Christmas present this year, I think), in photographs and in diaries. Dad’s diary is full of nautical terms and Mum’s is mainly concerned with the meals she prepared in the cramped galley (she was the chef on board). They did this trip just before they got engaged, before my brother and I were even thought about. They were care-free, tanned, smokers and drinkers; I was just the same at their age!
Could I please share with you some of my mother’s tips and other interesting bits of information about life on the ocean wave (Southampton to Antigua, via Gibraltar and Tenerife)?
Messing About in Boats
Food and Drink:
Personal hygiene (!):
Thank Goodness these diaries were kept. Without them, I would have no written record of my parents before they got married. As you can see my Mother can string a sentence together, but she has questioned where my brother** and I get our writing bug from…then it is revealed that my great grandfather wrote many books about East Africa (another time, perhaps) and my great uncle wrote, and had published, plenty of (environmental) research.
Anyway, the point I’m trying to make it that diaries, logs and blogs need to be treasured – they are a link to our personal histories. It may be time for all bloggers to safely save their postings for posterity, or risk their lives disappearing into the ether.
**Christian is lost in Africa - for over 4 years now; he was following in the footsteps of the Scottish explorer Mungo Park, but disappeared without a trace in Mali. After writing this post, I’m going to do my best to find all his writings (both virtual and hard copy) – sailing logs around the Caribbean, travels to Australia, and the mundane recordings in his diaries (he and I have kept diaries since our early teens). Hopefully, I can piece together his life.
[NB: Update 2017: Christian is still missing - now for 14 years. I believe he is in Nairobi, Kenya, having travelled from Mali, via Ghana, to Kenya over the years. And I did gather all his writings together after I posted this blog in 2007].
Christian would love this...
Imagine sharing your home with over 800 pieces of animal memorabilia? But not just any old animals, though - one specific animal. An extinct one, at that. Paintings, sculptures, books, artefacts, prints and ephemera galore; even the bathroom overflows (excuse the pun) with items.
The home I'm describing belongs to a person with one of the most eccentric animal passions I've seen: Ralfe Whistler, the 87yr-old 'Dodo Man', shares his Sussex home with an incredible collection of dodo-related finds – see the online articles from bohemiavillage.com and the BBC website.
Variations on a particular theme - only personal interpretations remain of the dodo. (CC license)
Many people connect with Nature via one particular animal, which lights a fire within them and leads to all sorts of opportunities for study, work, travel and social interaction. Ralfe, as a prime example, sees his collection, gathered from 40 countries, as 'keeping the art of the Dodo alive'. This 30yr odyssey was inspired when Ralfe's father, the ornithologist Hugh Whistler, left behind a collection of 70,000 specimens, mainly of Indian birds, and the bones of one dodo, dug up in Mauritius in about 1900. Those bones sparked his passion.
My initiation to Nature also begun with an animal. When I was small, a beef cow on our farm licked my soft hand with his sandpaper-rough tongue and from that slobbery moment on, I became hooked on cows. Eventually my passion became animal history, specifically how humans and animals have interacted over the years. It's often beastly research - I can hardly bare to imagine some of the details I read - but I feel a deep need to bring animals into the limelight as we owe them an apology and a debt of gratitude for past services.
When I originally read about Ralfe's dodo obsession, one of his comments caught my eye in particular. He states: ‘The last live Dodo seen in this country was in 1650. They used to walk it up and down Piccadilly in London.’ Well, having recently published a book on the history of animals in London I thought I'd better check this out.
Part of the joy of Nature, I've found, is that you can lose yourself in exploring these little offshoots. I could find no mention of Ralfe's 1650 dodo, but I did find an article called ‘Memorials of the Dodo’ in Chamber’s Edinburgh Journal (June 1852) which contains a potted history of the dodo’s last, supposed, outing on British soil and the evidence is clear – 1638 was the year Londoners were last wowed by the sight of a dodo. [‘Wowed’ would probably be too strong a description based on the dodo’s noted lack of movement and passive nature!]
Chamber’s notes a passage taken from a manuscript commentary on Sir Thomas Browne’s Vulgar Errors (preserved in the British Museum) – written by Sir Hamon L’Estrange – describing the dodo exhibition:
‘About 1638, as I walked London streets, I saw the picture of a strange fowle hung out upon a cloth canvas, and myselfe, with one or two more then in company, went in to see it. It was kept in a chamber, and was somewhat biggere than the largest turkey-cock, and so legged and footed, but stouter and thicker, and of a more erect shape, coloured before like the breast of a young cock-fesan, and on the back of a dunne or deare colour. The keeper called it a dodo; and in the end of a chimney in the chamber there lay a heap of large pebble-stones, whereof hee gave it many in our sight, some as big as nutmegs; and the keeper told us shee eats them (conducing to digestion); and though I remember not how farr the keeper was questioned therein, yet I am confident that afterwards she cast them all againe.’
Reading the whole Chamber’s article I found something which I hadn’t expected. I assumed the dodo tasted good – hence man’s insistence on killing it – but apparently the first Dutch sailors to see the dodo in 1598 actually named it ‘walghvogel’ (the nausea-causing bird) after they obviously overindulged in its fatty flesh. The bird was last noticed on Mauritius in 1679 by an English sailor who wrote of its hard flesh and so its eventual extinction wasn’t caused by man, but man’s companion animals – pigs, dogs and cats – which ate it, and its eggs.
However, as for the 1638 London dodo, there could be a glitch in awarding it the honour of being the last dodo seen in Britain. In 2008 a diary was found in an Oxford charity shop which tells the tale of an Oxford student and his pet dodo – written in 1683. It caused a sensation. But I very much doubt its authenticity, as it was probably inspired by the donation, in the same year, of a stuffed dodo to Oxford's newly-built Ashmolean Museum.
This stuffed dodo suffered so much damage over the years (from insect pests and over-handling) that by 1756 only the dodo’s head and one of its feet remained (see above). These 'scraps' are now the only soft tissue remaining of the extinct dodo in the whole world - the Oxford University Museum of Natural History treats these items, rightly, like precious treasures and they continue to astound and inspire generations.
It is these intimate experiences and profoundly-personal items that mean so much to Nature lovers. It is the hook which gets us caught into Nature's wondrous web. Ralfe's dodo bones; my cow's tongue. That magical moment. Awe. Surprise. Shock. When that connection to Nature is made, then exploration can begin. What was your moment?
Nurtured by Nature: Connect / Explore / Flourish / Disperse.