People and places

Is this the future of conservation?

London, 22 May 2015

In the harsh environment of northern Kenya, communities struggle with frequent droughts, poor health care, sparse or irregular government services and the threats posed by cattle rustling and ivory poaching. Ethnic rivalries dating back many centuries continue to disturb peace and undermine development. However, all this is beginning to change, thanks to a new movement based on community conservation. [read full article]

On field sports, death and moderation

Rutundu, Mt Kenya, 18 February 2015

We had come to Rutundu, some 10,200 ft above sea level on the northern flanks of Mt Kenya, to enjoy the mountain scenery and the pleasure of staying in log cabins where wood fires and hurricane lamps were the sole source of heat and light. We had also come to fish, and as soon as dawn broke on our first morning Jo Harrison – a serious fisherwoman with a trout stream of her own in Hampshire – and I clambered down a steep gorge in the company of Cosmas, one of the Rutundu staff. [read full article]

I remember, I remember

Almondbury, Huddersfield, 5 October 2014

If you listened to the Today programme on Radio 4 last Thursday, which was National Poetry Day, you might have heard Alan Bennett talking about Philip Larkin. Larkin’s childhood, he said, was characterised as ‘a forgotten boredom’. To illustrate the point, Bennett read the poem I Remember, I Remember, in which Larkin describes his thoughts as his train passes through Coventry, the town where he was brought up. [read full article]

If I were a pig…

London, 24 February 2014

Last week, the Danish government introduced a ban on the religious slaughter of animals. “Animal rights come before religion,” said the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Dan Jørgensen. The ban has upset Jews and Muslims as it proscribes their traditional methods of killing animals. Instead of having their throats slit while fully conscious, Danish livestock must now be stunned before they are killed. [read full article]

Kites and cleanliness

Kigali, Rwanda, 11 November 2013

Late one afternoon, some 35 years ago, Richard North and I walked through the gates of St Anthony’s monastery in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. Among the cowled monks we eventually found one who spoke English. Richard explained that he was writing a book about monastic life, Fools for God. I was retracing a journey I had made in the mid-1970s, a story told in the The Other Nile. [read full article]

Tearing the heart out of the Midi

Capestang, France, 17 August 2013

I have talked to half-Amerindian peasants in Brazil whose forests were being felled, mostly against their will, for high-value timber. I have wandered among the smoking ruins of forests in Sumatra, set alight by companies who wanted to plant lucrative oil palm. I have spent time in Cameroon interviewing Baka pygmies about the impact of illegal logging, which was leading not just to the loss of trees and wildlife but the hunter-gatherer way of life. [read full article]

Miraa, Meru and Mrs May

Meru, Kenya, 13 July 2013

“We are very angry with you British,” said the man I’d come to see at the Ministry of Agriculture in Nairobi. “We’re trying to work out how we can retaliate.” [read full article]

Crime in the Caribbean: no laughing matter?

Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, 25 May 2013

‘SCARFACE’ SHOT DEAD was the front-page headline in last weekend’s edition of Searchlight, a twice-weekly newspaper serving St Vincent and the Grenadines. Anthony ‘Scarface’ Hamilton had been shot dead by police near the washrooms in the courthouse in Kingstown. According to the police, he had been attempting to escape. [read full article]

Trinidad’s multicoloured ancestry

Port of Spain, Trinidad, 24 May 2013

If you arrive in Trinidad after spending time on other Caribbean islands – or, at least, the ones I have been to – the first thing that astonishes is the number of people of Indian origin. The explanation is simple enough: when slavery was outlawed plantation owners had to import a new labour force, the freed blacks being disinclined to work the sort of hours and regimes required by their erstwhile owners. Hence, indentured labour and a vast influx of Indians, whose descendents now make up around 40% of the population. Another 40% are of African descent; most of the rest are mixed, though there is a remnant population of whites. [read full article]

What’s in a name?

Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines, 22 May 2013

It’s so long since I have read Anthony Trollope that I would be hard pressed to tell you what Barchester Towers or any of his other novels are about. But I do remember the names: the obnoxious Obadiah Slope; the proud and vulgar bishop’s wife, Mrs Proudie; Mr Quiverful, impoverished vicar and father of 14 children. Thomas Hardy was another writer who used names as a proxy for character: you know, as soon as you come across Gabriel Oak in the first pages of Far from the Madding Crowd, that he possesses all the solid virtues of the best sort of country folk. [read full article]

Import-export: the dream shattered

Iquitos, Peru, and London, 1 April 2013

I used to think I’d like to have another occupation besides writing. Ideally, it would be farming, perhaps rearing sheep or pigs. But that wouldn’t work, not least because I live in London and spend much of my time travelling. Another possibility would be to find some exotic plant of great potential – for example, as a health food or aphrodisiac – import it to London, and make some serious money. In short: import-export. [read full article]

I need a drink

Lima, Peru, 17 March 2013

We were in some out of the way places during the past few days, and we ate surprisingly well. I hadn’t been expecting much in the way of classy food in Pucallpa, a sprawling town in the Peruvian Amazon largely devoted to logging and other forms of resource exploitation on a tributary of the Amazon. But dinner was a revelation: [read full article]