Saturday, 30 August 2008

Photohunter: beautiful

When you see this picture, I'll be travelling back to this place. I have run out of time to manage an original post, so here you have a photo I took in June while walking by "my" river, somewhere I associate with very happy times. It was originally posted in June but I think it fits equally well here.

clouds reflected in water

And of course, I can't help singing to myself "Reflections of the way life used to be". Only some of us will remember that.

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Friday, 29 August 2008

Happy Hay

Researchers from the universities of Sheffield and Manchester have drawn up a map of the happiest places in the UK, using the sense of well-being described by people surveyed. They found that the county of Powys in Wales was top of the list. By happy coincidence, I have recently visited Hay on Wye which is in that county.

It is certainly a very pleasant and attractive town, and luckily it wasn't raining the weekend I was there. It was possibly the single warm and dry weekend of the year.

Cheerful displays of flowers everywhere.

Hay has the benefit of two castles, this, and another which closely resembles a mound of earth covered in grass. Even the one pictured is not what it seems.

Hay castle

Hay's great good fortune continues, because it is close to the lovely countryside of the Wye Valley.

And the ultimate blessing as far as I'm concerned, the river Wye.

Beautiful views all along it as it more or less follows the Wales-England border.

There is quite a network of paths alongside the river and that would keep me very happy.

Both the Wye Valley Walk and Offa's Dyke Way pass by, so providing some great long distance walking.

Another plus point for Hay is provided by the 30 to 40 bookshops in the town, one of which is in the castle pictured above. I could happily browse for days on end.

I dare say there must be other reasons why the area is considered the happiest in Britain but the article I read didn't say specifically. What do you think makes for a great place to live?

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Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Tough women

Photo from Flickr/khym54. Creative Commons licence.

Like tens of thousands of other grandmothers in Malawi, this "Go Go" is taking care of her grandchildren because their parents have died of AIDS.

Photo from Flickr/khym54. Creative Commons licence.

This is Harriet -- one of millions of Go Go's in Sub-Saharan Africa. Harriet is a grandmother in her early 70s. She is taking care of 16 children who have no parents. Only one of Harriet's own children is still alive. The rest have died.

14% of the population in Malawi has HIV/Aids. There are 84,000 more orphans every year. Very often these children, roughly half of them, are taken in by grandmothers, sometimes leaving these older women with several children from different families to support.

Like Harriet above, most are of an age when they might be enjoying a more peaceful and restful life. Instead they are struggling first with the grief of having lost their sons or daughters, then to raise young grandchildren, often HIV positive, on a meagre income and with little or no support. They are unsung heroes.

Look again at those women above. How many of us could raise, or have raised, our own children in those circumstances? And yet these women are taking on their HIV positive grandchildren and at times other children as well.

There are so many courageous and tough women in the world, often struggling quietly in difficult circumstances. Not all of them perform spectacular feats which catch the eye or the attention of the press, but they are every bit as deserving of our recognition and, more to the point, our help.


Not in great shape, I'm afraid, far from perfect. But it's all we've got. Be gentle with it - our earth.

It's Doodle Week, and today the subject is Earth.

Spare my blushes

Hot on the heels of the earlier award from Solomon, here is an equally appreciated compliment from Ettarose. I am embarrassed but delighted to be considered a friend of someone who has such great and totally different blogs as Edge of Sanity and The Voices. They will both bring tears to your eyes - the first with laughter, the second with sorrow.

Because I've so recently done a similar award, I find myself at a loss when thinking of passing it on. It's impossible to choose. I'd like each and every one of my blog friends to have one. So consider it yours :)

Monday, 25 August 2008


You see fields of sunflowers all over France, but I always associate them with the Loire Valley area. I love the sight of a full field in bloom and it's fascinating to watch the heads all turn together towards the sunlight. The French for sunflower is tournesol - turn [to the] sun.

Every year we leave France at the end of June/beginning of July and return in early September. We always miss the best of the sunflowers, so here is my very own sunflower.

It's Doodle Week, and today the subject is sunflower.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Who owns science?

illustrations of scienceFields of Science from Flickr/ImageEditor. Creative Commons licence.

In July two Nobel prize winners, Professor Joseph Stiglitz and Professor Sir John Sulston launched a debate on the commercialisation of science. Prof. Stiglitz is well known for his criticism of World bank and IMF policies. Prof. Sulston is firmly opposed to the privatisation of scientific information after keeping his own data on the human genome in the public domain.

dna moleculeImage of molecules from Wikipedia.

In an article in the New Scientist, Prof. Stiglitz outlines the current situation:

  • Rich corporations have exclusive rights to their intellectual property and the profits coming from them.
  • Access to affordable drugs is effectively denied to poor countries.
  • This amounts to a death sentence for poor countries which cannot afford their own research programmes, and who are denied access to the knowledge base.
  • Drugs are not developed for diseases which predominantly affect poor people.
  • Profit takes precedence over need.

The basic framework of the intellectual property regime aims to “close down access to knowledge” rather than allowing its dissemination,

He puts forward the idea of giving prizes paid for by industrialised nations, rather than patents for innovative cures and vaccines, with the largest prizes being given to those that will benefit the largest number of people. He doesn't suggest that innovation shouldn't be rewarded - it must be encouraged because it is at the heart of the success of a modern economy - but that the focus on profit at the expense of the developing world must be changed.

With modern tourism, some neglected diseases are now being imported to the developed world. According to a UCL report, there were about 10,000 cases of "imported malaria" in the 10 years up to 2006, with 1% being fatal, and this in spite of effective malaria prevention. So we may yet find that these so far neglected diseases making their way into developed nations, eventually driving further research which has been so sadly lacking so far.

ad for malaria awareness for tourists

By chance today I came across this ad today, for Malaria Hotspots, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline. I wonder why?

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I am ungrateful wretch

Last night Solomon of Things I'm Grateful For left me a message to say he had something for me over on his blog. I went over there warily this morning, not knowing what to expect, but look what I found. Isn't that lovely! Thank you Solomon, you've brightened my day :)

This isn't one of those "tag 256 other blogs" memes but all the same, short of mentioning everyone on my blogroll, I feel I'd like to express my thanks to some friends who have supported me one way or another, some for quite a long time, others more recently.

Old timers, if you'll excuse the expression, are:

Elaine, who must I think be my commenter-in-chief, sticking with me through thick and thin, even though I have myself been sadly neglectful in the commenting department.
My Scandinavian friends, Tor, Renny and Captain Lifecruiser. I believe Tor was the first to venture this way, and introduced me to the others. Renny's favourite saying is "Blogging connects people".
Slightly more recently I have got to know Claudie, from the south of France but she blogs in English.

There are a couple of commenters who don't blog themselves as far as I know: Captain Janeway who sends me interesting links, and Anonymous j who likes ferreting around Google and stats as much as I do!

More recently Relax Max has burst over my horizon. Sigh. What can I say? A more outrageous, outspoken, larger than life, trouble maker I cannot imagine, but along with his more civilised alter ego, Yummy Biscuits, he has introduced me to a new world of Anglo-American dispute and many people I would never have met otherwise - look in my blogroll for them because I can't choose just one or two. I suspect if you dig far enough through the layers that make up Relax Max, you may come across a gem. Somewhere. Perhaps. Let me know if you find it.

Finally, thank you to my husband, who, for the three millionth time since we've been married, offered me a cup of coffee first thing this morning. For the three millionth time I explained, patiently, that I prefer tea, I always have done. Just don't talk to me before I've had two cups of tea, and after that I can cope with any eventuality.

And another thank you to the same man for thinking that I might like a change from my normal, carefully chosen, favourite brand of tea and coming home with Twinings Assam???? He doesn't drink tea, so why??? I'd really like some male perspective here (I feel sure it's a man thing) because I can see no rhyme or reason for this sudden departure. But thank you, dear husband, all the same :)

Saturday, 23 August 2008

PhotoHunter: wrinkled

I'm sorry for being so late with this post. My mind was distracted earlier and I was completely led astray. :) It was my last chance to see my son for what will probably be several months.

That said, I confess I found this a very difficult PhotoHunt. Who wants to look at wrinkles?

My wrinkled shirt is hardly attractive in any way.

Then I thought of this statue of Queen Victoria. You could say it's wrinkled I suppose, but only marginally more attractive.

A point of view that doesn't appear to please the old battleaxe. We are still not amused.

I'd far rather be looking at the "wrinkles" in the sea....

.... or in the sand.

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Friday, 22 August 2008

Olympic spirit

olympic ringsPhoto from Flickr/JL08. Creative Commons licence.

You can't imagine anyone being unaware of the Olympic Games at the moment. The coverage seems incessant, nothing but medal counts, records broken, superlative after superlative.

China has 639 competitors participating, the USA 596. Some countries have a single athlete. Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, has four.

Malawi runnersPhoto from Africa News

The country has sent 2 short distance runners, and two swimmers to the Games. The runners are Chancy Master and Lucia Chandamale, the swimmers Zarra Pinto and Charlton Nyirenda.

Malawi swimmers

Photo from Malawi's Daily Times.

Zarra Pinto, aged 14, first swam in a 50 metre pool just a few days before the Games started. There are no indoor pools in Malawi and only three swimming clubs. She trains four or five days a week, for an hour at a time.

So while we are applauding the wonderful results from Michael Phelps from the USA, with his 12,000 calories per day diet, or Rebecca Adlington from the UK who receives £12,000 a year funding from UK Sport, we should perhaps remember the efforts of the countries who just can't afford the same facilities.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

An idealist, am I?

I often do these nonsense tests to while away a few minutes. Most really are complete nonsense and I've no reason to suppose this is any better (because I'm SURE I'm a commander ;) ), but this one involves looking at lovely photography. And the result will make some people I know laugh.

Your result for The Perception Personality Image Test...

NBPS - The Idealist

You perceive the world with particular attention to nature. You focus on the hidden treasures of life (the background) and how that fits into the larger picture. You are also particularly drawn towards the shapes around you. Because of the value you place on nature, you tend to find comfort in more subdued settings and find energy in solitude. You like to ponder ideas and imagine the many possibilities of your life without worrying about the details or specifics. You are in tune with all that is around you and understand your life as part of a larger whole. You prefer a structured environment within which to live and you like things to be predictable.

The Perception Personality Types:

Take The Perception Personality Image Test at HelloQuizzy

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

You change your wife the way you change a car in Kano

Photo from Flickr/MikeBlyth. Creative Commons licence.

In northern Nigeria, according to the Population Council, 45% of girls are married by the age of 15, and 73% by the age of 18. Most marriages are arranged by the family to men who are on average 12 years older than their wives. Girls are brought up to believe it leads to freedom, independence, but the sacrifice is education and real independence.

Kano is an ancient city in northern Nigeria, the second largest in Nigeria. There is a high divorce rate here, where a new bride is considered a status symbol, adding to the vulnerability of the young wives. A girl can be divorced by the age of 18 and have children to support. "The way you change a car is the way you change a wife in Kano. You give birth to a few children and you can find yourself divorced for the slightest excuse," says Salamatu Da'u, a worker with a Nigerian AIDS service organisation, the Society for Family Health.

So they find themselves with limited education but having to earn in income. Inevitably this leads to menial jobs, but can also lead the way to sex work in a region where condom use is very low. Kano itself has an HIV/Aids rate that is below the national average, but among the brothel based sex workers in the city, this rises to 49.1%. These sex workers were also least likely to use condoms with their customers, and had limited understanding of how to prevent HIV transmission. Almost all the women working in the brothels had either been divorced or had run away to avoid being forced into marriage.

Northern Nigeria is very conservative, where discussion about sex is less open and literacy is low. The Society for Family Health workers are encouraging traditional leaders to promote the use of condoms. Some have, others lend silent support, but there is a long way to go, and so many different but inter-relating strands. to the problem.

Source IRIN: Underground sex in the conservative north
Child marriage
Education: the social vaccine

Saturday, 16 August 2008

PhotoHunter: colourful

books on windowsill

I couldn't bring myself to ignore the books sitting on my window sill, waiting to be put away. Apart from their colourful covers, they colour my life in so many ways, sometimes with colourful language, sometimes painting images, sometimes colouring and affecting my thoughts and ideas.

sculpture in gardenA return to Sir Harold Hillier's Gardens to show another sculpture called "Totem", a splash of colour in the greenery.

red crocosmia bloomMost colourful of all perhaps, the bright red of this crocosmia. I grew up with yellow and orange versions, equally colourful, but this is a very intense red.

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Thursday, 14 August 2008

Every cloud

Every cloud has a silver lining they say. Just a few days ago I missed the bus I was planning to take, which meant I had either a 20 minute wait plus a 20 bus ride, or alternatively I could walk for 35-40 minutes, I decided to walk. I am so pleased that I did because it led to a little voyage of discovery.

I've noticed an attractive church while whizzing past by car or bus, so I went off to Hyde, an area of Winchester to have a look, and take a few photographs while I was there.

I think the stonework is particularly attractive, stone mixed with flints.

When I emerged I noticed a plaque on what I had thought was an old barn on the opposite side of the road, but the plaque said it was Hyde Gate and the site of Hyde Abbey, 1110, the burial place of Alfred the Great, his queen, Ealswith, and their son, Edward the Elder.

The surviving gateway is mainly 15th century but there is evidence of an earlier gate.

The gateway as seen from what would have been the outer court, where only monks and important visitors would have access.

The stone, brick and flint floor. How many feet have walked over this?

One of the windows.

Outside there are traces of the old buildings and the perimeter wall. This fragment is part of the old guesthouse, spanning the mill stream.

Monk's Walk along the stream, viewed towards the south, with the remains of a medieval bridge beyond the guesthouse remains.

The stream, Hyde stream, dates from the mid 13th century when the flow of a natural spring in a nearby village was canalised to power the Abbey mill and to lead into the monastic fish ponds.

As I was investigating the stream, there was a great commotion when I almost stumbled over this duck and her babies.

Of course this diversion meant I had to go and find out more about the place, so the 40 minute walk lengthened to 90 minutes. My ultimate aim was to visit the Great Hall, the Round Table and Queen Eleanor's Garden. As I approached the Great Hall, I discovered that this particular silver lining had a cloud. My camera battery ran out.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Restless soles

A friend told me the other day that I was restless, not because I was fidgety or uneasy, but because I'm looking forward to returning to France. It set up a chain of thought that made me wonder if people with wanderlust are born that way or merely become used to a certain way of life.

My parents moved every year or so until I was six, then things settled down and we spent 3 - 5 years in each place. But my parents hadn't been brought up like that at all. They had very stable childhoods, though the rot must have set in at some point because even after it was no longer necessary, they kept on moving.

I left home as a student, married and kept on travelling. We spent varying amounts of time in each area - from 11 months to 4 years. I started to notice that at about 3 years I was becoming attached to a place, so when we were in Paris and offered another 2 years on top of the 3 we'd been there, we decided enough was enough. Memories start to build up at around that point. If I'd stayed any longer I would never have wanted to leave. The wrench was hard enough as it was, but of course Paris was a bit special.

I know that whenever we have just moved, I'm very conscious that everyone is a stranger, that I'm not going to see a familiar face as I walk down the road. I think that has to be one of my few regrets, that I don't have very many long-standing friends living nearby, certainly none that go back as far as schooldays. I have to reserve my "do you remember when ... " moments to immediate family.

On the other hand, I love the new experiences that living in a new environment brings, so different from any you have as a holiday traveller. There is so much to learn in this world and only some of it comes from books or the internet. Of course, too, the internet does bring with it the much greater possibility of keeping in touch with people, so that should at least help to dispel any regrets.

I have (or perhaps "suffer from" is the right wording) almost insatiable curiosity. In the interests of some research into skill sets, I took a test today with 70+ questions. I whizzed through it because the result wasn't what I was after. But the result did surprise me:

"You are curious, studious, independent and sometimes unconventional. You like to develop skills in mathematics, biology and physical sciences and prefer jobs with a scientific or medical focus. You enjoy solving problems by thinking them through."

I was surprised because, although I had never really thought of myself in those terms, it seems remarkably accurate. Perhaps it's the curiosity and independence that has made me a traveller. Or the unconventional.

In the end, I really don't know if it's nature or nurture that has made me like this. All I do know is that I'm unlikely to change. I am a restless soul.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Fighting back

mount kenya

Mount Kenya
Photo from Flickr/Kalense Kid. Creative Commons licence.

Among the Yiaku, one of Kenya’s smallest ethnic groups, 98% of women aged over 30 have undergone female genital cutting (FGC), sometimes referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM). Those that have escaped being cut are ones born to fathers from outside communities.

Custom has it that girls are circumcised aged between 9 and 15 during April and December, about 1000 per year. Immediately after that local schools report that the number of girls attending school drops by 40%. There is a high rate of illiteracy.

Little is known about the Yiaku, a people with limited exposure to the outside world. They are believed to have settled in Mukogodo Forest about 4,000 years ago, apparently after migrating from Ethiopia. Their cultural beliefs have been dominated by the Maasai, but they are now trying to revive their own traditions and language Yiakunte. Very few, approximately 1.5% speak the language fluently, and they are elderly.

A campaign has begun among the Yiaku to eradicate FGM. Over the last year 200 girls have been given alternative rites of passage, and are given training on their rights, health issues, reproduction and HIV/Aids. At the first session, 40 girls were expected, but 72 turned up. Two weeks ago, 82 attended.

Slowly but surely progress is being made. The girls who have escaped the cut will be able to continue at school, contribute to their communities, and educate future generations.

This work is supported by MS, a Danish organisation, in Kenya.
Information from The Standard, Nairobi.

Other posts on this subject include:
Papillon's story, a young French woman tells of the effects it had on her
Aminata's story
Senegal, Tostan and FGM


A single hollyhock bloom, just after a shower of rain, one of the many showers and downpours we have had this summer. Note the spots of rust on the leaf, flourishing in the humid conditions.


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