So I guess I’ve telegraphed the punchline there, calling my blog post “orchids underfoot”. Well who cares, I’m in a big hurry to show you what I found today so I’m cutting to the chase. Walking toward a huge bramble thicket on Tottenham marshes, and marvelling at the unidentified warblers who nest there I noticed something small and colourful beside my boot. Crouching down I found a bee orchid, just inches away from where I had ploughed a little path through the grass. And there were two more. And they were beautiful.
After a very long period of dormancy there’s been a tentative “rustle in your hedgerow” as Led Zeppelin might have had it, a shifting of leaf litter and a bit of bleary eyed peering about going on here at The Birds in The Meadow. Questions like “how come I’m still here after a two year hiatus” and “why didn’t she just let me die when the domain name went up for grabs” not to mention “what am I bloody well FOR, anyway” refuse to go away and almost became irrelevant during the near death experience this blog (and yes, the shop) just went through. It’s surprising how riled a previously indifferent site owner can become when said website is suddenly held hostage by its webhost. Is that even the right term? Who knows, and there dear readers is the problem for me. I love writing, and I love making and I especially love photography. What I do NOT love is all the shenanigans that make it possible for you to see what I do via the magic of ‘t interwebs. Sigh. However, I think I may have finally given the kiss of life to this sleeping beauty, let’s just hope that she doesn’t come back a bit wrong. Over the next week or so the site might vanish, or look funny, or the links might stop working. Why this should matter quite so much to me when I am certain no-one is actually looking is a mystery, but I feel compelled to mention it anyhow. Just in case someone is.
There’s been a lot said lately about the neighbourhood I live in – and neighbourhoods like it. There’s been a lot written about the people who live here, and what’s compelled them to burn down their own streets. I’ve spent days reading the commentary, listening to windbag politicians churning out the same old platitudes. I’ve dropped off donations for those burned out of their flats, harangued our useless mayor and burned with a peculiar indignation that a lot of the people’s opinions that I’m reading are those of people with powerful voices who did not grow up or even set foot into the communities they speak of. It’s unheard of for me to write anything political here, but I’m not happy having this particular elephant in my room.
I live in a neighbourhood were the police are regularly posted near the local tube station at school closing time, not I might add because of any law and order hotspot but simply to “reassure the general public”. The kids are noisy, boisterous and take up a whole lot of pavement, but I’ve never seen them do anything really shocking, let alone criminal. The crack den that operated unmolested 500 yards down the road was genuinely scary and far rowdier than the kids. What does this tell the kids?
I live in a neighbourhood where a gang of hooded youth will step back politely with an apology when I want to pass, but roaming gangs of adult men will sexually harass and follow women with impunity. It’s never them I see getting stopped, searched and told to move on. In this neighbourhood the local bus route is regularly disrupted as groups of up to twenty police officers board and search the bus for “fare dodgers”. Sinister barely describes how it feels. Does this happen in Kensington and Chelsea? I think not. What do the authorities think of the people of my community to order such a thing? Are we all already criminals by default?
I live in a neighbourhood which recently suffered cuts in youth services of seventy five percent, where popular youth groups and adventure playgrounds vanished overnight. Where young people have positive experiences and role models from outside of their homes stripped away in the name of cuts. What is better for these youths, to know that there is somewhere safe for them to go, where your postcode does not matter, where an alternative to gang culture is available and where adults genuinely give a shit about what happens to you – or where these cuts have now sent them – the street corner, to boredom, the dealers and the gangs. People need to get off their moralizing high horses about how these kids are “undeserving” or how “I never had that in my day and I turned out ok” or how it’s their parents responsibility – youth groups are a practical antidote to alienation THAT WORKS. It’s pragmatic. Kids are a lot less likely to burn down the high street if they are busy doing something else. Also, taking away the only alternative to the street corner sends a strong message. You are pointless, you are insignificant, you are powerless. Well a lot of kids found a way to feel powerful recently, and I am totally freaked out about what message they gained from that.
In a society where mobile phones and trainers pretty much define who you are even “respectable” people get caught looting. The shock and howls of amazement when people like school assistants and graphic designers get caught with looted sportswear are hilarious. YES! Even people with careers can loot! Temptation and greed is universal folks, but isn’t it interesting that sticky fingered professionals are seen as an aberration, despite the fact that we’ve all seen politicians who are not too proud to nick a few quid from the taxpayer. But their looting is sooo much classier than what happened in Tottenham, I mean, it almost slipped by unnoticed.
I live in what many would call a deprived neighbourhood, and before I lived here, I grew up in another one. There was one thing in common with both. People would look at us as if we were some kind of exotic virus, tut tut about what was to be done, call us names, give big jobs to their developer buddies to build us a swimming pool if we got rowdy then piss off again. No one ever wondered, seriously, what it’s like to know that the rest of society simply saw you as scum. No one ever wonders what we actually want or need or listens when we actually tell them but we are often spoon fed architecture that we didn’t want and is not fit for purpose. Poor areas are often “improved” by “gentrification” – a process by which much loved local pubs, cafés and shops get bought out and replaced by high end eateries, bars that do not welcome locals and expensive luxury flats. Rents skyrocket so that locals get forced into only the very very worst accommodation while hip young things move into their old homes and sneer at the former occupants. If you live in London and are really lucky you may find your home, park or favourite shops bulldozed for an Olympic stadium. What an honour! These are the improvements that are forced upon us, while public services that we badly need are snatched away.
And as Tottenham, Croydon and other towns and neighbourhoods burned, already there were those who were mocking the looters for their poor taste. Oooh, look, they’re looting JD sports! Hahahaha!!! They’re cooking their own food in Macdonalds, what a hoot!!!! Twitter dissolved in an indignant howl that can be translated simply as CHAV SCUM and the powers that be told us not to worry, they wouldn’t let a little thing like human rights get in the way of dealing with these feral rats. “Security” measures better suited to regimes like Egypt or Syria are bandied around by our Prime Minister. And quicker than you can say lets demonize the urban poor suddenly there is funding. Funding for the return of public services? For senior citizen or youth groups? Anything positive at all? Errr.. no. For more rods to beat us with.
Yes, I’m still alive, and with an ever growing backlog of pictures to share, a new camera and only one free day a week in which to either be out exploring or indoors post editing photographs… well, I think you can see where I am going with this. I have always loved writing this blog but it seems for now that being out in the world is more alluring than describing the adventures I have out there. Perhaps I just need to develop a punchier style; I don’t want to keep all the amazing things I’ve seen all to myself, that’s for sure. Today I went to Tottenham Marshes in search of dragonflies and butterflies but all you get (for now) is this lousy skyscape… ha! I’d better get busy, there’s things to show and tell…
For more beautiful and fascinating images of the sky around the world, visit Skywatch Friday!
It was still dark when we left the hotel, the air filled with a tropical bedlam of pre dawn bird calls. I’m not what you’d call a good flyer; when I flew for the first time (at the grand old age of thirty!) I felt as excited and awestruck as if I was being shot into the moon. That was then – now, I feel as if the odds against survival are just getting shorter every time and the thrill is tempered with dread. So walking out onto the runway to board our tiny twin propeller aircraft I was doing pretty well at staying calm. This route is cancelled at the slightest hint of bad weather, because if bad weather hits during the flight the pilot will have to coax the plane over some of the highest mountains in the world in some of the worst conditions imaginable – there is no margin for error. Flights in or out of Jomosom have to be completed by 11.00 -11.30 am, because after that the weather changes for the worst and the fearsome gales that spring up between the peaks would dash a plane to smithereens. If a flight is cancelled, you KNOW you wouldn’t have wanted to be on it.
We were the last to board, with me in a seat near the tail and R sitting by the door. Look at the picture at the top of this post. That’s my view of sunrise through the open door as the plane stood on the runway. See that rope going diagonally, bottom left to top right? That’s the rope they use to open and close the door. No, really. The stewardess whose seat was in front of mine gave me a reassuring smile, passed a tray of bonbons around the cabin (which I in my nervousness tipped up all over the place) ensured we were all strapped in, and yanked the door shut seconds before the tiny plane roared up the runway.
The plane banked and set it’s course over forested foothills studded by tiny villages and steep terraced croplands. Some villages had visible switchback roads leading to them, but the further in you got the thicker the forests became, and you began to see less and less dwellings in more remote and unlikely places, without even a trail for access. The plane seemed to almost graze the tops of the trees and then it felt as if I could, if my window were unglazed, reach out and brush my fingers through their leaves as the hills became mountains, their sides growing up around us.
And then suddenly, no more lush forests, no more tiny villages. The plane was climbing steadily, but if I looked out of the window I could no longer see the foot of the mountains… and their peaks were so high that I could barely see the tops. At last the plane climbed free, and this is what we saw.
I think I may have been making whimpering noises; I’m not sure, but the stewardess gave me a big reassuring grin and pointed out the astonishing peak pictured below – Machapuchare, or the Fishtail. Sacred, unclimbed and brilliant white it is a mountain as a child would draw it, it’s graceful twin summit hidden by a tiny cap cloud. I despair of the photo – it gives no sense of grandeur or scale. It’s a snapshot taken by an over excited woman through a grubby aircraft window, there’s barely any relation between it and what I actually saw.
Once past the highest peaks we began to descend immediately, following the Kali Gandaki river valley and through the deepest gorge on earth.
The river valley is subject to screaming gales which spring up from eleven am and continue all day – so all flights in and out have to be completed before this astonishingly dramatic change. That’s on a good day – inclement weather means no flights at all. A good thing too. If something goes wrong during the flight there’s no-where to go but into the river or the side of a mountain.
One of the most spectacular twenty five minutes I’ve ever experienced finished with our zippy little plane touching down on the short Jomosom airstrip while the other plane which works the route loaded up with passengers. These planes have an incredibly fast turnaround due to having to be safe back on the apron at Pokhora airport before the weather closes in for the day. As the plane taxied, I was able to see that the sky was pretty much taken up by mountains on all sides and that the landing strip was only a few hundred yards long.
Our plane taxied right up to the airport door and I marvelled that not many departures and arrivals can boast this kind of view. The mountain is called Nilgiri, and dominates the Jomosom skyline. Notice the other plane’s propellers? We’ve only just taxied off the airstrip and it’s already getting ready to go. No time to waste in these conditions!
So here I am, in the middle of Himalayas. You can barely see the sky for mountains.
If you want to read more about this journey click on Nepali Adventure to see all the posts!
For more beautiful and fascinating images of the sky around the world, visit Skywatch Friday!