Category Archives: adventure

My Family Roots in East Africa – Part Two

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~Drying coffee beans on our farm at Usa River near Arusha in 1972~

Days spent at our farm in northern Tanzania were full of colourful characters, including a cobra who lived in the trees overshadowing the house. He probably kept down the rodent population quite efficiently.

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My great-uncle Tony was probably more dangerous. He had a very sensitive nose and a legendary temper.

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My aunt kept tame lemurs. They marked their territory by peeing on their hands. This was understandable until they decided to climb over your face.

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My father loved travelling in northern Tanzania and was intrigued by the wildlife.

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I was fascinated by the people, many of whom wore traditional dress in the early 1970’s.

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Extended ear-lobes, names such as Libougi and bright beaded jewellery had me squinting into the sunlight.

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In a country where polygamy was the norm everyone seemed to have rather large families with any number of wives and children.

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Having your photograph taken was quite the thing. What the woolly lemurs thought of this, I do not know.

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There was always talk of the next expedition up-country. Careful packing was a constant preoccupation.

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Complicated arrangements were ever being made. Uncle Tony was an honourary game warden, with the power to arrest poachers.

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My mother loved the idea of going on safari and urged him to include us as he toured areas where wildlife thrived.

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It was a privilege to be taken game viewing as a child by someone with such a depth of knowledge.

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I began to sketch in the back of his Land Rover, while keeping lists of the animals we encountered and trying to learn their Swahili names.

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As we drove through the national parks, such as Lake Manyara we rarely saw another vehicle. The reason for packing so carefully was that there was no one around to help if anything went wrong. If you broke down or ran out of fuel you could be in serious trouble.

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But there were always old  friends to visit and they were charming, most hospitable.

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After driving for ages, we’d end up at another farm-house, playing croquet.

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Nothing but croquet, all afternoon and evening. Somehow I survived. I did so by keeping a diary. It was the first of a whole pile of notebooks that have grown exponentially, forming the basis of quite a few books – with more to come.

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To be continued.

 

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Filed under adventure, Africa, Autobiography, Biography, Diary, Family Life, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Travel, truelife story, Uncategorized

My Family’s Roots in East Africa

Cover photo MW

‘I’d like to go to Africa,’ I declared as a little girl, ‘and see forests full of parrots.’ This I did. Everything I had ever hoped to see was spread out before me and the experience left a profound impression.

Mailer Estate in 1970

My great-grandparents began farming at Usa River, just west of Arusha in 1919. I first arrived in northern Tanzania in 1972, when my mother took these photographs of the house and garden where her family lived for fifty years. I longed to climb the ancient fig tree in the garden but was told a cobra lived there. It was probably on the lookout for parrots coming anywhere near it.

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By the early seventies the family were busy farming coffee and often had visitors to stay. My great-uncle Tony used the farm as a base for his safaris and served as an honourary game warden having worked for many years in the Kenyan Police Force and Game Department. He was well-connected and once took Bing Crosby bird shooting, although this fact was kept secret until 2015.

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I loved the outdoor way of life, was intrigued by the kitchen that was seperate from the main house, and amused by the hot water system that consisted of small cylindrical  tanks known as ‘donkeys’. Everything smelt of wood smoke. The best thing was that I was able to sleep in a safari tent set up in the garden, in true ‘Swallows and Amazons’ style. It felt as if I was being swept along in an adventure portrayed in the film ‘Born Free’ when Virginia McKenna played the artist Joy Adamson who became well known for bringing up a lion cub called Elsa, eventually releasing her into the wild.

Makorongo's War by Sophie Neville - revised 30 November 2015_html_3c38f792 - Copy

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Bringing ‘Swallows and Amazons’ within reach

 

Sophie Neville with Lapwing kids

‘Unlike other films, ‘Swallows and Amazons’ is within children’s reach,’ I’ve been told. It’s true. Any child can pretend that their bed is a sailing dinghy taking them to a deserted island. And when you are a little bit older – it’s not impossible to join a sailing club or go camping.

Aldeburgh Junior LapwingsWe took Swallow to join the Aldeburgh Junior Lapwings on the River Alde in Suffolk.

Boys with their Lapwing

One intrepid sailor had bought her own Lapwing for £100, raising the money by busking in Aldeburgh High Street. Tilly renovated and varnished the clinker-built dinghy herself.

Owl hoots

She can be seen here teaching the younger children how to owl hoot, playing ‘What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor’ on her thumbs.

Learning how to owl hoot

The children went fishing for crabs, which they later raced down the slipway.

A crab

They went in search of treasure – if that is what you call a scavenger hunt –

Scavenger Huntbefore sailing back to camp by the mud flats, cooking out in the open and sleeping in tents.

Junior LapwingThey launched their dinghies, raised their red sails

Boys with their Lapwings

and headed off, catching the tide.

Sailing on the River Alde, Suffolk

Swallow, the dinghy used in the 1974 film ‘Swallows & Amazons’ acted as flag ship.

You can find ideas for Swallows and Amazons themed parties and presents here.

Swallow on the Alde

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Swallows and Amazons 2016 – the film trailer

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Swallows and Amazons – the new film trailer: where adventure meets danger

Please click here to view of the film trailer

If you experience problems watching it – first make sure ‘Flash’ is enabled on your computer

 

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A Swallows and Amazons childhood

Swallows and Amazons fly sheet

The first swallows have arrived and summer is here. You only have to look around to see parents advocating a ‘Swallows and Amazons’ childhood for their offspring. They want to go camping, catch fish and learn to cook on open fire.

Titty’s dream of being alone on an island to experience what it must have been like for Robinson Crusoe has never been seen as worrying. Parents want to encourage their offspring to use their imaginations and explore the wilderness, knowing it will be memorable. As long as the weather holds they are happy to act as Man Friday. By exercising her imagination, Titty comes up with ideas that ultimately win the war and develop courage and resourcefulness by taking part in the adventure even though Captain John is at the helm. The fact that the mere able seaman becomes hailed as the hero of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ has inspired a generation.

Cobnor Camp 2015

TARS at Cobnor Camp

If you want the real deal, become a family member of The Arthur Ransome Society and sign up for one of our summer camps while there is still space:

If you can get to the Lake District, there is a camp on Coniston Water in Cumbria – 2nd to 13th August 2016

If you are nearer the south Coast, there is a weekend camp at Cobnor, sailing around Chichester Harbour – 14th to 17th August 2016

There is a ‘Swallowdale’ Camp in North Derbyshire – 27th August to 29th August 2016

and a sailing weekend in Staffordshire.

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Swallow at Cobnor

If you are keen on sailing find out about the Nancy Blackett Trust. They offer memorable opportunities for children and teenagers, as well as adult sailors who’d love the opportunity of going out in Arthur Ransome’s yacht and meeting like-minded people.

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The Nancy Blackett is based on the Orwell near where the Ransomes lived in Suffolk but she ventures forth and was even spotted on the Hamble last year.

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Wading to the Island

Sophie Neville near Rockcliffe

‘Where are they now – the cast of ‘Swallows and Amazons’?’

I can see from my admin page that this question is often typed into search engines – three times before 8am this morning.  An awful lot of people seem to want to know what the children who played the Swallows and the Amazons back in 1974 are doing now they are all grown up. For this little Swallow it really has been ‘Swallows and Amazons Forever’. I’m still wading out to the island.

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‘Titty the Isrealite’ photo of Sophie Neville taken by Hilary Weston

Now a writer, I am officially President of The Arthur Ransome Society, one of the largest literary societies in the United Kingdom with six branches and quite a number of overseas members. They even have association with the Arthur Ransome Club in Japan.

TARS in Dumfries

This year we held our International AGM weekend in Dumfries in the lowlands of Scotland, when we much enjoyed walking along the Solway and across the wade to Rough Island, just as Titty walked out across the mud in Arthur Ransome’s book ‘Secret Water’. There seems little difference except that I have a dog called Flint rather than a kitten called Simbad.

Sophie Neville with Flint on Rough Island

The great excitement at our IAGM this year was that Nick Barton, the CEO of Harbour Pictures came up to Dumfries with his screenwriter Angela Gibb to tell us about their new adaption of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ due to be released in cinemas on 19th August. I helped him to carry a huge plasma screen up to the hotel where the conference was taking place so that members could watch the thrilling new promo. We were sworn to secrecy, but you can read of all Nick told us in a feature article in the Saturday Telegraph by clicking here. This online version has more photos than the print version and mentions The Arthur Ransome Society. There is additional comment in the Sunday Telegraph.

Sophie Neville on Rough Island

Sophie Neville who in 1973 played Titty Walker in the EMI movie of ‘Swallows & Amazons’ dressed up to face the Scottish weather

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The Dinghy Cruising Companion

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If you are keen on dinghy sailing and looking for adventure, this is a book to accompany you through the summer months ahead.  It is full of sound advice from Roger Barnes who learnt to sail on Windermere in Cumbria and is now President of the Dinghy Cruising Association. He has written for Classic Boat, Watercraft, Dinghy Sailing Magazine and currently writes for Classic Sailor.

Roger emailed me to ask if I had a photograph of us sailing Swallow without life jackets. I supplied him with this shot my mother took in 1973 since I am standing in the dinghy. I am not sure how we managed to go about when we sailed off, as it also contained the parrot’s cage.

I will certainly take The Dinghy Cruising Companion with me if I manage to get Swallow to Brittany in the near future. As you can see from the cover Roger often takes his own boat to regattas in France.

The Dinghy Cruising Companion

I bought my copy of Roger’s paperback online but it’s available from all good bookshops. To find out about sailing Swallow, the dinghy used in the 1974 film of Swallows and Amazons, please click here for Sail Ransome.

Last weekend we had the IAGM of The Arthur Ransome Society in Dumfries. Why not join this literary society who organise great events and summer camps. If you are not able to get out and about there is a wonderful Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook

To read my own article for Classic Sailor please click here

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