Archive | February, 2016

Fog in the Desert

21 Feb

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If you’d asked me before coming to Abu Dhabi what the weather would be like I would never have mentioned fog. I’m used to the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” that is Autumn in the UK but fog in the desert? Well, the thought never crossed my mind and came as a huge surprise the first time I saw it.
I’d heard about the humidity of the summer here but you have to experience that to truly appreciate just how intense it is. Come the end of September, the heat really starts to diminish and it feels like someone has thrown a switch turning the humidity off. Winter in the UAE is a longed for time.
And yet the humidity never really goes away. It’s just not a problem when the heat gets turned down. The difference is that, from time to time, the weather conditions combine to create mists and fog, usually early in the morning before the heat of the sun starts to raise it. We’ve had such conditions this week.
Of course, Abu Dhabi is a city in the desert, with tall, shiny, glass towers that, if you’re privileged enough to live in one, mean you can look down on the surreal and swirling beauty beneath you.

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And finally, a picture taken by Dawn Challoner just as the sun was rising.

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How amazing is that?

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Fred and Nan – A True Romance

15 Feb

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They weren’t in the first flush of youth when they walked down the aisle. Thirty was quite old for a bride back then especially when her younger sister was already married with a family. But Fred had been married before. Divorced. It was talked about in hushed tones when I was small, the subject changed when the grown-ups became aware of “little ears flapping”.
It was only many years later, after my own divorce, that he discussed it with me. He’d been left devastated, feeling his life had lost all direction. Then he met Nan.
Everyone talked of their romance, dancing to the Big Bands at Trentham Gardens, but in many ways they were chalk and cheese. Fred had the wiry look of Astaire, being both reserved and one of life’s natural gentleman while Nancy was all laughter and chatter, a night owl to his early bird. As a couple, though, they just worked. In their company there was never a dull moment, conversation flowed effortlessly. She brought him out, encouraged and respected his opinions, he occasionally moderating her exuberance. As he told me in that conversation, she and their sons were simply the reason he lived, what his whole existence revolved around.
I’m sure they had their struggles, of course, but to my brother and me, spending weeks at a time at their home during childhood summers, it was always sunny, always a holiday, their sons our closest cousins despite the miles. We spent other holidays together, too. Adjacent caravans and shared car journeys, somehow fitting four adults and four children in a family saloon. I remember a game of “who can make the boiled sweet last longest”, a canny  device of Nan’s that also kept us quiet! In later life, now with families of our own, our visits were shorter but we would all meet at my parents’ on Boxing Day without fail. It was always as though we had only just said goodbye.
It was Fred’s funeral that brought us all back together at their home, though. We wondered how Nancy could possibly carry on without him. She herself died almost a year to the day after him. On Valentines Day.

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On the reverse of the photograph (above) Nancy has written:
“Taken on our Golden Wedding Holiday at Weston-Super-Mare in October 2010. We were then 84 and 80, still happy and in love!!!”

Elephants

2 Feb

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Reading today about the man killed whilst riding an elephant in Thailand brought back our recent visit. Reports of what happened vary in the papers but it seems he was thrown from the elephant’s back after it was either teased or beaten.
Most people we spoke to while we were in Thailand had taken the opportunity to ride these wonderful animals while they were there and who can blame them? The chance to get up close and personal with such beautiful and extraordinary creatures is something they will probably remember for the rest of their lives. But I just wanted to add my voice to those urging tourists to choose not to ride them.

Appalling abuse is routine to get the elephants to co-operate but most tourists don’t know about this. As the spokesman from World Animal Protection said in the Guardian “If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, then the chances are it is cruel and the animal is suffering.”
The other side of the story is that without the elephants providing an income for the many handlers they would not be able to make a living. And what do you do with all these damaged animals who wouldn’t survive if released into the wild? The answer seems to be the concept of a sanctuary similar to the one we visited near Chiang Mai.

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One of many with irreparable damage to her leg.

While far from perfect, at least here they were free to roam about as they chose, to interact with people only when encouraged with snacks. They were able to form family groups and herds, breed naturally, physical wounds were cared for and the contact with and assistance of other elephants helped to mitigate their psychological trauma. The story of one of these ladies, rescued after being deliberately blinded to make her easier to handle and work, was particularly heartbreaking. She had been befriended by another lone female who had encouraged and helped her into her new, kinder life.

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The sanctuary has to make money to support its animals, though, and it seems only fair to use the tourists. Visitors are shown around in small groups, told the life stories of the different elephants they come into contact with, allowed to get close to carefully selected individuals and bathe those that want to be bathed. Those that don’t or have just had enough simply wander off, cross the river and get out of the way. Other groups are viewed from platforms and it is clear to see the natural relationships that have built up.

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The whole experience is truly unforgettable and riding is not only unnecessary but abhorrent once you know a few facts.
So if you’re thinking of going to Thailand, I urge you to do a bit of research beforehand. It doesn’t take much – a quick look at a popular review site will give you a good guide – and vote with your wallet. Choose not to perpetuate the abuse.

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