Thoughts after uprooting

The Best Place In The World

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Mana Pools, The Zambezi River, Zimbabwe – that has to be the best possible address in the World. No exaggeration, Mana is MAGIC.

How many times have I been there? No idea. I could work it out but I won’t, because it’s irrelevant. Actually, one answer is relevant – not enough. One of my greatest fears in life is that I won’t make it back there. When I die I want my ashes scattered there. It won’t actually matter if they aren’t because, assuming that there is a Heaven and that I will ascend to it, Heaven is at Mana and so I’ll be flying around permanently. That is a heavenly thought.

So what is it about Mana that creates this web that entraps one forever. It’s a zillion little things, it’s some big things, it’s the animals big and small and now, it’s many vivid, joyous memories.

 Entry into the Park is on a usually very rough dirt road of about 75kms. Having checked in at the first boom on the main road from Harare to Zambia the bumping starts immediately and so does the incredibly dense musty scent of the Zambezi Valley bush. It’s a dry smell, a hot smell, a smell that says WILD and possibly, apart from the woman you love’s perfume, it’s the absolutely best scent imaginable. It’s a smell that can’t be, won’t be forgotten – ever.

For several consecutive visits at that same scent start point we saw a lone hyena cross the road regardless of the time of day. It was always going from right to left and we determined, in conjunction with our children, that National Parks had cunningly placed a radio controlled hyena at that point so that each incoming vehicle would see something on that long and often dreary road.

posers-at-the-nyakasikana-river-entranceAbout half way along the road is another boom situated just across the Nyakasikani River. Elephant often dig holes in the river bed at the bridge for water and, in doing so, provide an always beautiful sight to greet one’s arrival. Occasionally they will let you know that they are indeed in charge and that you should leave forthwith. As they are never inclined to actually leave the river bed to enforce their authority we usually disregard them and after a session of head shaking and ear flapping they will themselves move off or go back to quenching their thirst.

The corrugations and the dust of the road mean a slow trip unless one is lucky enough to be on the road just after it has been graded when the corrugations are considerably diminished. The heat of the valley usually necessitates the windows being down (we haven’t had a vehicle with air con to go there) so the dust gets into the car and goes everywhere. At times the dust is accompanied by tsetse flies and their stings, often straight through whatever clothes you’re wearing, do distract you from the dust, a bit. Somehow the trip in just adds to the magic and helps to remove you from the daily grind that you’re escaping by going there.



Built to blend in with their surrounds, the Warden’s Offices are situated under some huge trees and are usually shady and considerably cooler than the sun baked road that has led there. Very often there are  a couple of Bull elephant hanging around feeding on the Albida pods that have fallen from the trees. Just occasionally one objects to people going about their business and getting into the office adds a squirt or two of adrenalin just to keep being there exciting. It’s advisable to take note of the signs warning that “Hyenas eat anything” or your supplies and, probably the containers they are in will disappear overnight. 



Mana is the only National Park in Zimbabwe where one can walk at will without escort and it is, perhaps, this fact that makes it such an outstanding place to be. There are no fences and so game wanders through the camp site undeterred. You can never totally let your guard down because there is usually a lone bull elephant or buffalo bull hanging around the camping area. Basically, don’t bug them and they won’t bug you and will give you some phenomonal photo opportunities.



Some of my most vivid memories come from within the camp site area itself. Like this instance when my eldest daughter Jinti and her brand new husband, Graham, were on Honeymoon. (Who on earth would go on honeymoon with famdamnbly in attendance but anyway, they did). A bull that had been around the camp wandered in as they were driving out and they basically had to wait whilst he demolished a large lump tree right next to their vehicle. The bull was joined by two others and the car, at one point, was surrounded at a distance of a couple of metres, by three bull eles. What an absolutely fantastic wedding present!




One of the Bulls had lost the tip of his trunk, probably to a snare, and so had no “fingers” to pick things up with.




 But in nature’s inimitable style he had adapted and had enough dexterity without fingers to pick up much smaller branches and twigs than this – amazing, magic in fact.








Of course, the magic doesn’t only come from encounters with elephants. After dark when one is confined to the area of the Camp Site you have to be content with observing the noturnally rambling eles, hippos, honey badgers, hyenas (and on a couple of occasions lions), enjoying the stupifyingly relaxation of a crackling camp fire and, naturally a whisky or beer or two – or three, or four perhaps.

When your coolest water is in a canvas cooler, great teamwork is required to get the whisky just right and, apparently requires great concentration on the part of the tap operator.


Mana Brose doesn’t need quite so much concentration though, because condensed milk doesn’t spill too easily and the cans are easy to handle as is the whisky that dilutes the condensed milk. On cold nights when the condensed milk is thicker, more whisky is required to dilute it to sipping consistency which is very clever because on a cold night you need the greater warming capacity of the extra whisky……. or something. 



On hot days the pools for which Mana Pools is named provide a spectacular ambience. With their combination of water, shade, sun, the sounds of hippo grunting,  splashing and sometimes roaring and fighting, idly, menacingly sun bathing crocs and, of course, that scent they are a really great place to have a picnic lunch in the shade of a big tree as baboons go about their highly entertaining business of gathering food. A stealthy search along the banks may yield the sight of terrapins sunning themselves on a log, necks outstretched. the slightest sound and they are gone in a flash leaving you feeling just a little guilty for having disturbed their privacy.

Well, this hasn’t captured what constitutes the Magic. I suppose I’ll have to try again at some point. Looking up the mist shrouded streets of Malmesbury I know where I’d rather be tonight.


Written by jimsmumblings

December 16, 2008 at 21:08

Self Worth

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A couple of communications in the past few days have initiated another of those troublesome thought trains which has, strangely enough, been remarkably similar to the epiphany described the other day in Worm’s fantastic blog.
Perhaps it was the way I was brunged up with one eye always on the relevant authority (maybe it was the same thing for Wormie) but it is now abundantly plain to me that conformity has been an essential part of my being. Conformity basically means being the same as all the rest. The fact that I’ve found myself at the top of every group pile that I’ve been conforming to all my life must mean, by deduction, that I have some qualities that make me, at the very least, better than the group average I’ve been aspiring to. A problem with aspiring to average is that one ends up being just average and, being average means that by avoiding the real lows you also miss out on the real highs of life. By ducking the hassles you miss the rewards, by avoiding distress you never feel the joy. Life is a flat line and in the operating theatre a flat line means you’re dead!! Wow.
Most of the self development literature I’ve read starts out with the requirement for an evaluation of your weaknesses from which you develop techniques and practises that will strengthen those weaknesses. Recently I heard about one that sets out to determine your strengths and strengthen them, now this sounds like a much better idea to me. I realise that I’ve spent my life being overly aware of my weaknesses and of down playing my strengths so that I deny my abilities until a crisis arises and I rise to the top of the pile. Hmmm, so by inference then, if life is a perpertual crisis there is a perpetual need for the strengths which are usually denied.
Snoopy will get that dirty Red Baron. Yay for Snoopy!!!!

Here I am as one with the environment. There’s me, the Bush, the Bugs, the Creepy Crawlies and the Beasties. Not one of them cares who I am unless I’m a threat to them. Not one of them has any expectations of me, I don’t have to conform to any rules other than the basic rules of survival. I’m not being judged by them or anyone else for that matter. In my mind, out here I’m worthwhile because I appreciate what is here and I can be me, the real me.
Here, people are looking to me (as a young niece once described the look in a Lion’s eye as looked at her staring at it through a game fence). People looking to me are seeing those weaknesses and are criticising! This is a foreign place, an uncomfortable place where conformity is the rule of easy survival.
The reality, in a Town/City environment, that none of those people actually care one hoot about you gets glossed over by that insideous thing, lack of self worth.
Perhaps though, the biggest realisation has been that my own sense of self worth is firmly attached to my financial status – no money, no worth!! How sad is that and how deeply embedded is the idea. A new friend made an exteremly generous offer that I refused. There were several reasons for my refusal but the principal one was that I am keeping my head down below the parapet of liquidity. No bucks = no good! Hah, this one has to be defeated somehow.

Written by jimsmumblings

December 16, 2008 at 18:16

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Funny how things start trains of thought.
Having just finished watching (again, for about the dozenth time) the movie about Johnny Cash – Walk the Line – and having been enthralled (again, for about the dozenth time) I picked up on a line in one of his songs, “Get rhythm when you get the blues” and it brought to mind how true this is for me and how music affects me. Blue, down in the dumps – nothing like a loud, driving, harmonious beat to get me up off the floor and singing (badly) along and feeling better in no time. Probably doesn’t do a thing for the neighbours and those near and dear though. Music also triggers many memories, usually good, some from way, way back.
Sailing was a huge part of my life in the latter part of my High School career. Most of my mates had girl friends, I had the use of a 5o5 (five oh five) class racing dinghy. Whilst they partied at the weekends, I was usually at the Lake sailing. Life was simple, glorious and, when the wind blew, exciting beyond belief. At one spell, for too short a time, I crewed a Five Oh for a guy called Nick Belford. As a 17 year old I had no clue about Nick’s life but there were some vibes around his situation so he didn’t quite fit the Club scene apparently. That was all irrelevant for me, Nick could really make the Five Oh move. I started crewing for him just after he’d returned to Rhodesia having represented the country in the World Five Oh championships in Australia and he had the use of a boat for a season and he didn’t have a crew. My skipper was selling his boat having decided to get married and his future wife had determined that the expense of keeping a boat going and marriage weren’t compatible so I was unemployed as such, and therefore available. With Nick I learnt to do things in a boat that I didn’t know were possible and which I would certainly have never considered doing with Pat, the skipper being locked up.
A close family friend, who was an Engineering type and really into precision, was the senior committee member responsible for organising the club’s racing events. J, as a result, spent a lot of time on the club bridge overlooking the Lake from where the races were controlled. He had markers set out on the course of which he knew exact positions, distances, heights, elevations and any other measurements that were possible. J was also a brilliant photographer with an enviable collection of Leica cameras and equipment.
During one race on a particularly blowy day in winter Nick and I were leading the Five Ohs when we passed through two of J’s marker lines. We had the Spinnaker (a huge, bright red balloon type sail) flying along with the Genoa jib and the main sails. I was out on the trapeze (a wire attached to the mast which I was hanging off on a harness), my back foot was in line with the boat’s transom (back end) and Nick was hanging out on his toe straps sitting between my feet. We were screaming along with the boat planing perfectly and I knew I’d never been as fast in a sailing boat and also that we were pushing the limits of stability to the extreme edge of the envelope. J took a photo of us at that point, a photo that, sadly, I never got a copy of. Once he’d printed it he used the photo and all his other measurements to calculate that we had exactly 1 foot of the boat’s 16.5 feet in the water. We were on the verge of flying – literally. Nick and I were barely visible in the spray and to this day I can still see the exact view I had that day, I can still feel the adrenalin rush I was experiencing and I can still hear our screams of totally abandoned exhilaration just as clearly as on the day.
What has this to do with music? Well that train of thoughts I mentioned earlier has come into play and because of the experience that I gained sailing with Nick I was able to start instructing juniors at the annual Sailing School which was held every year at one of the sailing clubs on Lake McIlwaine just out of Harare. The final year I was involved with the Sailing School was memorable in many ways. It was my last year at School, I was the proud owner of a very decrepit Ford Anglia 100E car and the Sailing School was being held at the (according to the Club members anyway) most prestigious club on the Lake. It certainly had all the big bucks and many very expensive boats to support their claims. Oh, and this time I had a girl friend who also sailed and was also at the School and much in awe of the fact that I was an Instructor (ta da).
The sailing schools were always really good fun. They lasted for a week with four days of instruction and a three day regatta to end off so we were at the lake for the whole week and camped at the club. My mates (including girlfriend) and I, in our fleet of little decrepit cars had gone out for two weeks so we were well set up by the time the school started. Sailors came from all over the country to the event and as we had been going for several years we knew most of the others – a large party was in the offing every year. One night in particular stands out in my memory. We had gone down the road about 1km to a hotel and there we’d had a really good party and dance to a live band. Strangely, looking at it now, probably the most alcoholic drink had by anyone was a Coke. Our apparent intoxication came purely from the occasion and our youthful exuberance. The band had been playing lots of Beatles music and when the time to leave came we were all singing just like the Beatles (we thought anyway). Two of the three cars wouldn’t start (a common occurrence) so everyone got into and onto my little car and off went back to the Club. I was wearing a bright yellow polo neck jersey so it was deemed appropriate that Yellow Submarine should be the song of choice to get us home. As it was full moon it was also deemed appropriate to travel without lights and make our way by the light of the silvery moon.

17 people in and on a little car can make a lot of noise at 2 in the morning and our behaviour was deemed unsuitable by a certain family known mainly for the grumpiness of the Mother and the number of young children in it and she complained bitterly the following morning. She did it very unpleasantly in the morning briefing and she did her best to humiliate us all publicly whilst she was doing it but fortunately J (he of the five oh photo) was running things. As an ex Royal Navy Engineering Officer not known for suffering fools gladly, or in any other way actually, and partial to parties himself he took great delight in reminding said grumpy mother about a number of occasions in the past where she had, apparently, been a little less than circumspect. I know we loved it and, judging from the laughter, so did almost everyone else there as well. I never hear Yellow Submarine now without a whole string of fantastic memories leaping into my mind. Small wonder that it’s one of my all time favourite songs.
Dylan’s Rainy Day Woman (the party that brought up that first Real kiss and the shaky knees that can only happen in that way once in a lifetime), Tambourine Man (the after play party at the Gremlin Drive In in Harare when we had a sit down meal in the parking area using furniture looted from the play set), Tie a Yellow Ribbon (being played by a band at a TA Drill Hall where families were meeting a Company of Territorial Soldiers coming home from Call Up. I was on my way, as the Army Commander’s representative, to a funeral for a Territorial guy who wouldn’t be coming home), The Blue Danube Waltz (my first Regimental Ball in my Scarlets (Mess Dress), all the uniforms and the long formal ball gowns and the sound of the Regimental Band – wow), Yellow River (as played by the RAR Dance Band and sung with African accents, the fun and glamour of those Regimental Functions), Sweet Banana (the utter pride of marching off to the Regimental March at the Passing Out Parade for the Recruit Course thatI had trained) There are many tunes and each evokes it’s own special memories of occasion, smell, atmosphere, fear, exhileration.
It’s no wonder that music is so special to me.

Written by jimsmumblings

December 11, 2008 at 17:03

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Bees and Mist

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Nature is a wonderful place to be, an empty house when the bees are swarming in your head is not. When the bees start swarming and are on the move, buzzing round and round your head and threatening to overturn your very best efforts to achieve some sort of order in your life nature is the place to be.

It doesn’t matter where you are:

A pleasant place of peace and tranquility amidst the bustle of “civilised” (not) society where the traffic noise is muffled somehow and, provided the idiot on his/her bicycle avoids the temptation to do wheel stands at high speed near you and the dog owner actually scoops the poop that you would otherwise stand in, you can actually hear the Robin and the Blackbird going about their daily business of survival.


A place where there is no traffic noise, no idiots doing wheelstands on bikes and the dogs avoid the paths. A place where it is easy to believe that God had a real hand in the creation of Earth, a place where “civilised” man hasn’t totally buggered things up – yet.
A place that is irrevocably and irreversibly tied to your heart, to your soul, to the very core of your being.

In Nature, if you allow it and, if you allow yourself to feel the peace and the atmosphere, the angst of those bees dissipates like the Mist in the early morning sun. The bees settle and can be safely handled and put back into their hive without too many stings.

Bees, though are industrious and they’ll be back. Fortunately, Nature is always there to help. You just have to be prepared to get out of the house when the buzzing becomes unbearable and look for the help.

Perhaps I need to take more notice of my own wisdom.

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December 9, 2008 at 22:15

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Bludgeoned into starting

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Blog?? “To blog or not?”, that has been the question for some time now. Who’d be interested? Who’d care or, most of all, Who cares or gives a damn? Probably not then. But, here’s the rub, the idea won’t go away and, in the end, what does it really matter what anybody else thinks? Do it then, nah – too much hassle etc, etc, etc.
So, what’s changed then? Simply a mention to a sort of conscience about the possibilty and the pressure has come on big time. Bit like Jiminy Cricket actually, keeping the right thing to do in the forefront of the mind until, in the interests of retaining some form of sanity, here we go.
A blog needs a purpose, doesn’t it? So what’s mine to be? Air the philosophy of life according to Jim, clear the ever increasingly congested mental race track of dreams, regrets, doubts, hopes, perhaps just mumble away in whenwe fashion about that wonderful hot, usually dry, dusty world left behind on the other side of the equator or what? Maybe just rabbit on about whatever sparks the imagination and cover all the above and more. Yes, that’s it. This is Jim’s Mumblings after all.

So Worm, here we go! Now to keep the inspiration coming. maybe you’ll need to keep the boot ready!

Written by jimsmumblings

December 8, 2008 at 21:10

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