Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Red Hot Chilli Pepper or the Ballad of the Flaming Owl

‘The owl is on fire!’

The Chilli-Elephant man has returned from an overseas business trip and been in bed on his chilli farm in Livingstone for a mere four hours. The phone has rung and now he is trying to make some sense of the farm manager’s frantic shouting.

‘Mr. M! Mr. M! Come quickly! . The owl is on fire!!’

So begins the tale told by the red hot Chilli-Elephant man one steamy and sticky night in Livingstone town last week. Chilli-Elephant man is telling the story to myself and two very gorgeous dear single woman friends of mine. We are eating Indian food at a restaurant called, bizarrely, ‘Armadillo’. All of us ladies are slightly agog, a little breathless and a tad giddy because Chilli-Elephant man is not only breast-achingly handsome but courteous, seemingly exceedingly intelligent, thoughtful and what tops it for me..bloody funny.

Chilli-Elephant man is one of the Executive directors of the Elephant Pepper Development trust. Basically they figured out a way to bring an end to the endless conflict between marauding elephants and rural farmers in Southern and Eastern Africa whilst bolstering local economies, fighting poverty and teaching conservation. Not bad eh?
The solution? Capsicum! The very versatile hot pepper.
Elephants hate chilli. Grow it. smear it on fences, or wear it around your neck and you are pretty much guaranteed an elephant free lifestyle. Combine this with the fact that chill pepper can be grown under difficult circumstances and in harsh environments and then sold as a cash crop and ....da daaaa. Yep..everyone wins. Okay I have simplified this but have a quick shifty at the websites and and you’ll get the picture.
(Note you can also donate directly to the project or sideways by buying endless supplies of exquisite hot sauces!)

Anyway back to supper and the Chilli-Elephant man’s story...

‘Mr M, hurry, hurry the owl is on fire!’ Blearily and presuming he has completely misheard his farm manager, Chilli-Elephant man heaves himself out of bed and heads outside where, indeed, the owl is on fire,

It is a very large and once distinguished barn owl that has sadly tried to roost on the top of an electric pylon. This being a Zambian electricity company pylon however the poor beast has been whammed with 1000s of volts of electricity causing it to instantly and most dramatically, ignite. It is stuck, feathers flaming, at the very top of the wooden pylon.

The fire service is called. They arrive eventually crammed into the back of what looks like a taxi, gripping a few rusty hand pumps. Unable to do much given the bird is flaming over 20 feet up, they shrug and end up standing next to the Chilli-Elephant man and the entranced farm staff all scratching their heads and watching the fire with its gouts of black smoke and sparks or electricity getting gradually bigger and more threatening.
(Owls are associated in Zambia with death and witchcraft and there is much stroking of chins, eloquent nodding and nervous tutting.)
Police too join the crowd, notebooks in hand, gazing up at the flames.

At last to the firemen’s delight and Chilli-Elephant man’s horror the entire pylon crashes to the ground. Several small fires start up on the ground and electric pylons spark and flash in the now very dark night. (The electricity is..well down). The firemen however are thrilled and leap into action finally able to use their hand pumps.

Chilli-Elephant man is stumbling around trying to make sense of it all, jet lag blurring his vision. He notices that the police are solemnly picking out the remnants of the owl (who unlike the phoenix is never emerging from these ashes). A large bag is bought forward and delicately opened and the smouldering bones are carefully slid inside. The bag is marked…and here Chilli-Elephant man pauses for emphasis…the bag is marked ‘Culprit.’

At this point I slide off my chair in hysterical giggles. It is such a truly surreal yet gorgeous Zambian story. …though you should really have heard it from the marvellous man himself....ahh,girly sigh. How did he win the hearts of three women in one evening? I am beginning to think he has invented some kind of chilli elephant aphrodisiac aftershave. Now THAT would sell!

And so and so….I arrived back in UK yesterday. No chillies here folks. No flaming owls or monstrous, heavenly, stormy skies but plans afoot to find a way to return. More stories soon..and thank you so much to Val from Monkeys on the Roof for my new blog award. I have to nominate five others and so will make my pick for next post when I have finally (and grumpily) unpacked.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


Forgive me folks..its been a while since my last blog session. I am in Zambia at the moment. In Livingstone in fact, in the Business centre of the Zambezi Sun hotel listening to the sound of a band playing marimbas (wooden xylophones.) It is the first time in ten days I have had a decent enough connection to post and apologies for the lack of illustrations.
From this room I can hear the distant thunder of the Victoria Falls. It has just rained so everything is cool and steamy now but I am still tingling all over from lying hungover and belly swollen from a fulll English breakast in the gorgeous sun by the languid blue pool this morning. last post had snow in it.
This one has sunburn.
And monkeys.
Bloody bastards stole my suncream.

I spent last week in the bustle and grime of Lusaka seeking out things to phoograph for The Project. The light is wonderful but tricky especially with my daft vision. It is the rainy season and so things go from bright primary colours to gloweriig dark purple storminess in seconds. Huge hammerheaded clouds drift menacingly high overhead and occasionally thick cool cloud covers everything.
People are less relaxed about having their photographs taken too. There has been much change in the last few years since I was filming in the communities out here. The gulf between rich and poor is widening, shored up by gouts of AID money. People are desperate and can become understandably agressive at the 'muzungu (white person) snapping away. A couple of days ago I was the centre of a frightening clash in the City market and was only just pulled out from being potentially battered by the quick thinking (and brutal shoving) of my father's partner.
Its different here of course, tourists are postively encouraged to shoot endless amounts of footage so I shall go exploring and see what i find. But not immediately...I think I might need to rest again.....
Well I better go and get organised for some more lying around. Thanks fo
r you patience with this blog and I'll be back in full flood as soon as pos! And also - THANK YOU for your lovely comments on me last posting. means a great deal!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Snow Joke.

Let it snow, let it snow..hang about..I’ve gotta get to the sodding airport!

Wasn’t it something though, sumptuous and soft and bright and oh so quiet; a blanket of cool otherness that soothed the usually brittle, sourness of Cambridge and London so much so that people went out and played..not just once..oh no..for two, whole naughty days.

‘Are you going to work today darling..?

No..I err..I was thinking I might ...umm.. you know...take the kids sledging.’

‘ (Thoughtful pause) But darling, we haven’t got any kids..’

(Silence in the hall but for a swinging front door…)

This was also the week I won two more blog awards! Yep. TWO! One awarded by the inspirational Tam ..she of Fleeing Muses and the other the irrepressible Miranda of The Times of Miranda! Thank you so much.
(Apparently my blog contains wit that 'clinks like the ice in a gin and tonic'..this is very astute as my blood, according to my doctor, is at least 50 percent Bombay Sapphire… )

I shall add them to this blog as soon as I can figure out how the hell to do so.

These awards have come at a very pertinent 'cheer up the moody bint' time. I had another hospital visit and the news was worse then I had thought. More cells dying, more structural damage, more sight loss. I had gone alone thinking it (being alone) would stop me weeping in public and it does usually work. I managed to keep my upper lip all the way through to the hospital exit where I had a sudden attack of the heaving sobs. The good thing about hospital exits is that EVERYONE is sobbing. There were so many of us gurgling and shaking that I blended in fine and was mostly back together by the time I got home.

Luckily I had much to look forward to. A visit from my wise and beautiful writer friend H, who gently reminded me that a lot of the things I fear are only in my own head. (Yeah...its pretty dark in there sometimes).
I even managed to get the thriller into the Amazon Breakout Novel Competition on time (with thanks to the intelligent criticism and gut-sapping proof reading by my dear volunteer editor Matt) AND put in an MA application to one of the universities whilst also remembering to retrieve my passport from the secret sock in my knicker drawer and get prepped for Zambia.

After all, tomorrow is another day!