A bit of fun and a bit of inspiration

I guess life leads you to a point where you become inspired by certain things or people. I wanted to show a few of my inspirations, a bit of travel (which is always an inspiration) and include a bit of fun along the way.

I’ve always travelled ever since my dad dragged his family around East Africa on safari most weekends, starting from when I was a baby. He put my first snake in my hands at the age of about 18 months and so I’ve never had a fear of them, or spiders and other traditional scaries. Well, not a big fan of mosquitos but since they are great pollinators, we’ll have to put up with them.

As I grew older, the snakes grew longer

and the animals grew weirder

I’m with the duiker, my brother is with the zorilla

And then older still I started to travel on my own with a definite focus on the style of travel my dad had instilled in me. Here I’m seen at Thompsons Falls in Kenya at the age of 20.

One thing my dad didn’t do was teach me any fashion sense (he was no better than me!). My clothes sense wasn’t good and the moustache hung around for thirteen years, goodness knows why?! I’m seen here riding on a sugar plantation in Kwa-Zulu Natal in South Africa.

Fortunately on occasion a beard disguised the moustache. This is with a gibbon in Thailand. The poor thing was chained to a lamp post and was starved of affection. I shouldn’t have cuddled it but simply had to and it wouldn’t let me go. I wish I could have rescued it.

Of course like most travelling bums I did the usual combination of adventure sports like whitewater rafting and parachuting

I’ve been stuck with my dad’s sense of animal empathy. Here a seagull chick had become stranded off the coast of Scotland and I decided to rescue it.

I literally froze for my trouble. Scotland isn’t known for its balmy waters.

Nice jocks!

Yes, I managed to do some stupid things along the way. I got myself a tag along with Karen soldiers in the jungles of Burma for five days. This is one of the tribes that’s been trying to get independence from those horrible military rulers of the country and if they could just stop fighting with the other tribes that are on ‘their own side’, they might just do it. I had to familiarise myself with a bit of ‘protection’, not that I wanted to but following the rules was important. I’m sure I’m holding it wrong.

I’ve had some wonderful opportunities in my life, mainly because I’ve sought them out, but some have fallen into my lap. I got the opportunity to dive with minke whales who literally came up to me. These are the ones the Japanese have done their best to eliminate! Shame I only had a crappy throw-away waterproof camera. At one time I had six minkes in my vision, but I’d already run out of film (the old 35mm days)

I was lucky enough to share the last 20 years with a kindred spirit, a wonderful lady who loves the things I love and is seen here with me on top of Mount Kenya in 1994

One thing she doesn’t share with me is my fashion sense. In fact I think she would rather move fifty paces to the left at times. This photo though wasn’t really my fault. We had travelled to Kenya on a shoestring with minimal luggage and decided to climb Mount Kenya at the last minute, so I had to buy some ‘warm’ clothes in the only store left available to me. My choices weren’t good and nothing fit but I still think I look quite dashing – Not!

How could you not be inspired in a place like this. A snow-topped mountain right on the African equator with a glacier like this

Animals find me or I find them wherever I go. Here I am with a Jacksons Three Horned Chameleon wandering around loose at the Nairobi Snake Park, and another one wandering onto my hand in Tsavo West National Park

When you’ve been lucky enough to live a life like I have, it becomes a responsibility to raise the next generation to love camping in wild places. I think I’m having varying degrees of success here

I’m pretty certain one of us has spotted something in Hluhluwe National Park but none of us knows where to look

I did win though with my two boys and I’m sure they’ll continue the fight for a better world for wild animals and wild places

And as for my wife, she hasn’t changed, she’s as game as ever.

And me, I continue to be fascinated by wildlife and the wilderness and that will never change;

from playing with chimpanzees

to feeding peanut butter to cheetahs

to mucking around with large lions in Zambia

 

to sitting on top of the largest sand dunes in the world in the Namib Desert

to sitting at the edge of a wilderness miracle called Fish River Canyon in Namibia. Yes, like the better known Grand Canyon but without the people and trinkets that are sold there.

Long may this wonderful journey continue and let’s all buckle down and make certain the natural world is there for our kids to enjoy.

And finally, Australia has its blue tongued lizards but did you know that in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, a similar animal has managed to establish itself. Do not approach!!

The greatest bushman ever!!

I’ve camped in wierd and wonderful places all over the world and could be considered an experienced outdoorsman. My friends all know it and talk to me if they need advice about where to pitch a tent, what to carry, etc etc. Here are three stories which show why I’m known as such an expert – NOT!!!

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I took my family camping on a whale watching trip at the Great Australian Bight. We camped at Cactus beach and I found a perfect spot for the tent out of the wind. It didn’t look like it was going to rain but rain it did!! Buckets of it! In the middle of the night, our mattress seemed to be floating and when I could finally brave the elements, the rain had stopped and the water had subsided somewhat. This is our tent and the kids have never let me forget about it. The water was up to the car wheels earlier.

In my desire to find a spot sheltered from the wind by those bushes I had set up in the lowest part of the site. Clever!

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We camped in the Clare Valley. Well, it was actually on a hill and we were using one of those old fashioned canvas tents that took about three hours to put up, you know the kind – they weigh a tonne and have steel poles. I didn’t even consider the wind because it was calm when we got there. By the time I had erected the tent it was starting to rain so we finished up and left things and drove into Clare for lunch (typically tough camper that I am!!). The wind rose and the heavens opened. When we got back to the top of the hill the tent was about sixty yards away draped over the branches of a tree in two pieces!! We shoved it into the boot of the car and rented a cabin and thanked our lucky stars since it rained for the next three days.

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When I proposed to my wife, she thought, like all my friends, that I was the complete woodsman. We honeymooned on the south island of New Zealand. I had spent four months solid ‘tramping’ (Kiwi for ‘hiking’) around the mountains and valleys a couple of years earlier and was very good at it. There was a valley that I wanted to tramp and I convinced my wife to go with me. It would be a four day trip, walk up to a mountain hut at the snow line, stay a day or two and then walk out again. I didn’t factor that at the beginning of the trail we would have to cross a river. No bridge meant wading but the water was deep, all the way up to our armpits. I made two trips, each time carrying a backpack above my head. This river is basically melted snow so we were freezing when we started the actual walk. It was obvious after a few hours that we wouldn’t make it to the hut so we decided to pitch the tent on the banks of the river. We did so about an hour before sundown. After setting up camp, I checked in my bag and found, to my and my wife’s horror, that I had forgotten to pack the matches. I had to explain this to her as she tried to work out how we were going to cook our food, the kind that needs rehydrating.

I then remembered I had a compass and this had a magnifying glass on it. I got a piece of toilet paper and aimed the magnifying glass at the sun and the paper caught fire. Yes!! It will all be ok. The paper soon burnt up so I quickly found twigs and branches and set up a fire pyramid, put toilet paper under it, got the magnifying glass out again and watched, in horror again, as the sun sunk below the horizon.

My name was mud!!

We spent the coldest night ever, eating chocolate, nuts and lollies. The next day we met a school group and I begged them for some matches, blatantly lying that ours had got wet!!

Who’d camp with me!!

This photo was taken moments before I realised our predicament. Strangley enough, almost nineteen years later, my wife is still my wife and still goes camping with me. Never underestimate the power of forgiveness!!

Continuing the amusing stories from my childhood

I’m going to continue my short stories of amusing or dangerous events from my African childhood, or my travels as an adult.

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No TV in those days so life was all about adventure and the outdoors. In fact, if you are living in East Africa, why you would want to watch TV is beyond me. I can hear my kids going “oh no, here goes dad again – ‘in my day you had to make your own fun’”. Well, I still make my own fun I think.

We would camp a lot. One time we were out in the bush in Uganda and there was a nearby waterhole which the indiginous people used as a bathing spot. We asked them if it was ok for us to swim there and they said “of course it is”. It was a small waterhole, what you see in this photo was pretty much all of it.

After spending a few hours there, this very crocodile walked out of the water and up the bank. It was an absolute monster and I can’t believe no one knew it was there. To my knowledge, none of the locals knew it was there and no one had ever been taken by it or any other croc at that waterhole.

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The flood at Bushwackers.

Everyone looks back on moments in their lives when they realise that, but for a few seconds or minutes and through no fault of their own, they might have been killed. It may be avoiding some lunatic on the road, not being on a plane that crashed (a plane did crash in Addis Ababa once, killing quite a few passengers – my brother Mark was on the plane before it and the whole episode caused huge panic at my Grandmother’s home in Yorkshire until he walked through the front door, blissfully unaware of the crash or the state Grandma was in) or it may be something like wandering around in a river that had all but dried up. Yet again, we were at Bushwackers, camping by the Athi River. This is a very large river but on this occasion, drought had reduced it to less than a trickle. There were a few tiny pools of water in the middle, probably fifty metres from each bank and no more than an inch or two deep. Mark and I were there, collecting small freshwater shrimps that had become stranded and we assumed were going to dry up like toast pretty soon anyway. After an hour or so, we returned to the bank where the tent was pitched, for lunch.

I can clearly remember what we were doing. Every Easter, the East African Safari Rally would be running and sometimes we would watch the final stages in Nairobi as the mud splattered cars came home. The crowds would be huge but all the Africans would leave when the great Joginder Singh arrived, whether he won or not. This time we were camping but keeping up to date on the radio. All of a sudden, whilst listening to the broadcast, we all noticed that the ambient sound had changed. There was a huge roar in the background that we hadn’t noticed up til then and we all looked up together and saw that the river stretched from one bank to the other and had become a raging torrent. Boulders, six metres in height were completely underwater. The force was something to behold. Dad went downstream taking photos and was convinced he saw someone being washed away to their death.

 

Mark and I were standing in the middle of all this less than fifteen minutes earlier. Rain had fallen upstream and caused a flash flood. It must almost have been a wall of water that came down and we would have had no chance of survival had we found a few more shrimps.

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The dwarf toads.

When you are the mother of two animal mad kids and wife to a man who is even worse than his children, chances are you are going to come home one day and regret ever getting married. My mum had to put up with a lot, from being dragged from England to live in Africa, moving from house to house, town to town, village to village. She shouldn’t have had to put up with our hobbies as well, but that’s exactly what mothers do.

One day she came home just after Dad, Mark and I had come home from a collecting trip. She opened the bathroom door to run herself a much needed bath when she was met with a sight she would never see in North Yorkshire. There were over forty dwarf toads (of the type below) hopping happily in the bath. Well, where else were we supposed to put them?

Some funny stories

I’ve been updating this site because I’m going to make it my main website and blog rolled into one, a bit more user friendly. As such, I’ve been going through a lot of my old art and also my old travel and family photographs. This has reminded me of some very funny, or not so funny at the time, experiences from my childhood.

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I know I have a brain. I even think it works fairly well. However, sometimes it just disappears for a few minutes.

Our favourite camping spot was a place called Bushwackers, about half way between Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya. We used to search for animals and we would fish in the Athi river. One day my brother was using the only rod we brought with us so I borrowed a line on a spool from the campsite owners. This photo was taken just before the incident.

You can see the spool I was using. After we’d been fishing for a while, my brother cast in again and I tried to cast further than him. Unfortunately I let go of the spool so the hook, line and spool all went into the river. This would have been worth less than a few cents but I didn’t want to lose it because it was the camp owner’s not mine (I tried to take my responibilities very seriously). I jumped off this rock, ran downstream about 50 metres and ran chest deep into the river hoping the line would wrap itself around me and all would be well. The next thing I knew was my dad running towards the river at 100 miles an hour, shouting at me to get out, and when I did get out I received the biggest smack on the head I ever have had accompanied by some language that I didn’t understand at the time. Dad was terrified!!

The Athi river is home to hundreds of crocodiles. We’ve seen many of them at this very point. I’ve seen many of them at this very point. Like I said, the brain went missing for a few minutes.

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This photograph is of me and my dad. He was an engineer on the East African railways, building bridges. However, he was also fascinated with animals and especially snakes. He even wrote a book called Reptiles and Amphibians of East Africa.

We lived for six months in a place called Tabora in Tanzania when I was nine years old. Somehow we ended up with a 12 foot python seen here with us in this photo

We had this snake for most of the six months we lived there and in that time it ate one frog. Pythons can go long periods of time without food – it simply means they’ve fed well at some point in time recently. Maybe it had eaten a small antelope before we ended up with it. Anyhow, we also had a chicken. Chickens are fine food for a python and you’d think it would keep its distance for fear of becoming ‘chakula’ (food in swahili), but no, not this chicken. It used to wait til the python coiled up for a sleep and it would clamber into the middle of those coils and go to sleep itself. It never did get eaten – not by a reptile anyway.

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One of our many pets was a zorilla. This is a polecat and the best way to describe it is Africa’s equivalent of the American skunk. We called it ‘Yardley’ after the perfume of that name. It once went missing for two weeks almost in the middle of Nairobi, and turned up on our doorstep once we thought it was either gone for good or dead. It looked very much worse for wear but it recovered just fine.

My dad loved his photography and this is a shot he took of the zorilla.

This was in the days before digital cameras and clever things like Photoshop. If you wanted a picture like this, you either had to wait for days or weeks out in the wild or you had to be clever yourself. This was set up in our spare bedroom in Nairobi, green plants up against the wall, stones on the floorboards. The snake is a pretty realistic looking plastic cobra (much better than the ones they give you at fairgrounds nowadays) and the zorilla isn’t looking at the snake’s head, it’s actually looking at me, standing out of the picture, holding a juicy lump of raw meat.

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I mentioned before that we loved fishng at Bushwackers campground. One time we’d done particularly poorly, not even getting a single bite. On our way back to camp, dad encountered a poacher, not a rhino horn poacher but just a local bloke tryng to feed his family with some fish. He could catch fish but not where he was, on the camp’s private property. Dad threatened to report him but the guy made a deal, promising not to do it again if he revealed a great fishing spot to us. Dad let him go and we went in search of this spot. After three hours of trying, we thought we’d been done and went back to camp empty handed and annoyed at the poacher.

In the morning, before breakfast, we decided to have one last go. We had half an hour to spare before we needed to pack up and go back home to Nairobi. In that half an hour, we caught 72 tilapia. Fed us for weeks!! Here I am with Dad and my Grand Mother holding some of those fish.

I’m sure I’ll be back with more stories one day.

A traveller’s art diary

The great thing about travelling regularly is you expose yourself to different cultures and experiences, and you learn a lot. Of course, if you’re an animal nut like I am, you can actively seek out what you are looking for.

I was thinking the other day about the last couple of major trips overseas that I’ve had and how much art I’ve produced as a direct result of them. The following pictures are just a few from my own references in Egypt, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia.

Here’s a waitress from Zambia

Lions I managed to interact and play with

I called the next one “I wish I was a leopard”. Lions are good climbers but are terrible descenders. They get into all sorts of trouble when they come down out of the tree and look very little like a leopard, which would be totally at home in a tree. They make a lot of noise and seem to have little in the way of coordination, until they are back on the ground and then they look like they totally belong again. This is a young lion which still has remnants of the juvenile spots of that species, which make it look like a wannabe leopard even more.

Here are some kids from South Africa and Namibia

“Hope for Africa”

“The leader of the dance”

“Too cool for school”

“Thumbsup”

“Braids”

“Cool kid from Langa”

“Old men of Springbok”

These beautiful birds, red-billed hornbills, are camp pests in Etosha National Park. They are welcome to be pests wherever I go as they are delightful

Here are a couple of people and a homeless cat from Egypt

Hmm, this guy looked very dubious, and I’m afraid he was too. He was a camel herder but I think he would have herded all our money if we gave him chance

Here’s a lovely lady from Malawi

Although I’ve seen a lot of tigers in zoos, I’ve never seen them in the wild. The following two scratchboards came from meeting someone (whilst I was travelling last year) who had some great tiger reference material on his camera which he shared with me. That’s another serendipity of travelling, you get to meet people who have done things you haven’t done and you can benefit and learn from them.

And while we are at it, I’m not one of those people who see more of the world than their own backyard. In fact, I refuse to be one of those people. Very few Australians have been to all their own states and territories but I have, most of them multiple times. It’s a fascinating continent and one which I love exploring. It’s been responsible for some of my all-time favourite experiences. As such, I always keep my eye open for people, animals and birds to paint or draw. Here are a recent couple.

Something else went through my head the other day too. I counted up all the countries I’d been to and it came to 53, more than quarter of the world’s countries. They range from places like the United Kingdom many many times as my family lives there, to way out spots like Mongolia and Burma, Iceland and Bulgaria, Belarus and Leichtenstein. The map below is what my world travels look like at the moment. Of course, it always looks better than it actually is. I’ve explored some countries quite well (six months in Canada, five months in New Zealand, three months in the U.S. and other decent efforts), but the map fills in a lot of red in Mexico considering I nipped over to Tijuana for an afternoon, and I also went from London to Hong Kong by train once, which meant I went through a lot of Russia, but I branched off to to Mongolia about halfway along the country yet to look at the map, you’d be excused for thinking I went all the way to Vladivostok. And because I’ve been to the U.S., the map fills in Alaska. I wish!! Maybe one day. My list of countries also includes both West and East Germany as the first time I went there, that’s what they were. Now of course, it’s only one country.

So why don’t we all set some goals to travel more, either locally or overseas, and to share those travels with our friends and hopefully inspire each other. And if you are so inclined, record your travels in a visual journal.

Spitzkoppe Namibia, a great supply for art

This was a boy from a school in the tiny isolated village of Spitzkoppe in northren Namibia, south western Africa. I took photos of lots of kids that day and they are all so exuberant and fun. The girls all pose for you in ‘model’ poses and the boys all do some kind of ‘gangsta’ pose. This kid is no different, doing his version of the ‘thumbs up’ but with finger extended.

I’ve done this one in my ‘squiggly’ style

This is the third kid from the same school that I’ve done pieces of after the following scratchboard and oil pieces

Is it the Loch Ness monster?

Who remembers those grainy photos of the famous Loch Ness monster? If not, here’s a couple to refresh your memory

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Come on, we all want to believe in the legend. don’t we. And apparently very recently there was another sighting, this time from space.

Ok, so I was in a boat in Chobe National Park in Botswana and an elephant was about to cross the river. This is what happened. See if it looks familiar…

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And then out it wanders on the other side

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As far as I’m concerned, that is the origin of the Loch Ness Monster legend though I didn’t really want to be the one to burst anyone’s bubble. At any rate, an African elephant is as amazing as any mythical creature can possibly be.

That would have to have been one of my most priceless moments in a huge list of priceless moments. And to me an African Elephant will always be one up on a Loch Ness Monster.

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