Category Archives: Travel

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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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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‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ along with a letter from Mrs Ransome herself

Members of The Arthur Ransome Group on Facebook have alerted me to the fact that ‘The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome’ is currently available for viewing on BBCiPlayer.

Griff Rhys Jones

This beautifully made documentary, presented by Griff Rhys Jones, examines Ransome’s life as a war correspondent in Russia from 1913 to 1919 when he was so close to the action, in dialogue both Lenin and Leon Trotsky, that the question has been raised as to whether he was a British spy.

Hugh Brogan, Ransome’s biographer explains that he’d originally ran off to Russia to escape from his melodramatic wife, Ivy Walker in 1913. After using his time to record Russian fairy stories, that can still be read today in his book, ‘Old Peter’s Russian Tales‘, he was employed by a national British newspaper to report on events leading up to the Russian Revolution. Black and white archive footage, along with photographs Ransome took himself, illustrate this well.

The BBC’s erstwhile political correspondent John Sergeant, explains the significance of certain survival strategies Ransome used, such as using ‘his practical skill to outwit people’, over extracts from the feature filmSwallows & Amazons, produced by Richard Pilbrow in 1973.

Suzannah Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West above Derwentwater in 1973

Suzannah Hamilton, Stephen Grendon, Sophie Neville and Simon West, 1974

The scenes from the movie also show how the story Ransome wrote when back in the Lake District, was in many ways an outworking of feelings accumulated while he was working in Russia. By being away and concentrating on his writing, he neglected his daughter just as Uncle Jim was not around for the Blackett girls.

Captian Frlint with Nancy and Peggy

In the dramatised documentary, the beautiful actress Alina Karmazina plays Evgenia, the girl Ransome fell in love with while he was filing reports from Petrograd.  They later escaped over the border, trading her copper kettle for freedom of passage.

If the BBC had contacted Richard Pilbrow he would have been able to send them this letter. It was written to Neville Thompson, the online producer of the film, by Evgenia, who had become the second Mrs Ransome. It has never been published before. She gives the address as her retirement home near Banbury but it shows what kind of girl she was:

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Page two:

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When Mrs Ransome saw the finished film in 1974, her only comment was that the kettle was of the wrong period.

Suzanna Hamilton playing Susan Walker with Stephen Grendon as Roger Walker camping on Peel Island, Conioston Water in Cumbria

Was Susan a portrayal of Evgenia? Here she is played by Suzanna Hamilton.

The story of the Ransome’s escape from Russian has been told by Hugh Lupton, Arthur Ransome’s great nephew, who gave us a rendition recently at The Arthur Ransome Society meeting near Bungay. It can be listened to on CD, available on CD from Burning Shed.

The Homing Stone by Hugh Lupton

The Secret Life of Arthur Ransome can be watched on BBC iPlayer

by clicking on the photo here

Griff Rhys Jones - BBC

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Filed under 1973, adventure, Arthur Ransome, Biography, British Film, Family Film, Film History, Lake District, Letters, Memoir, Sophie Neville, Suzanna Hamilton, Swallows and Amazons, Travel, truelife story, Vintage Film

Very Happy Christmas from Sophie

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Hoping you find time to relax with a good book.

*******

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What we did on our holiday ~ Part 3

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The Drapers’ shallop on the River Erdre

You know what it’s like; you never see photos of yourself on holiday until someone else sends them to you. Here I am, rowing in the bow of the Drapers’ shallop. By some miracle we seem to be together, in that our blades are barely visible.

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The most challenging task for me is raising my oar in salute, as we did here for our landlady:

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The long oars are heavy. The only way I can raise mine is by putting one end under my foot.

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My fellow rowing club member who took these shots from the water explained that his camera unexpectedly went into an ‘Impressive Art’ setting. Although this looks like a painting, it was for real, taken out on the water from a sandolo.

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As you can imagine, the whole trip took quite a bit of organising, but it was worth it. This shot was also taken on art mode.

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While some of us worked really rather hard on our holiday, others enjoyed the river from a different perspective.

Passengers in the shallop

Next week, on Wednesday 24th and Thursday 25th September, The Draper’s Shallop will be taking part in Countryside Live at Lee Valley in the London Borough of Hackney, when children from the inner city of London will get a chance to pull an oar and experience what it feels like to travel on the river as Queen Mary once did.  I’m volunteering on the Thursday.

On Saturday 27th September, she will be competing in London’s river marathon along with 300 other crews. The course of the The Great River Race starts at London Docklands, with vessels rowing up the River Thames under all the great bridges of the capital to Ham House in Richmond, passing under Kew Bridge at about 3.00pm. Let me know if you spot her!

~ photos by Robin Privett

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What we did on our holiday ~ Part Two

royal thamesis in the French newspapers

A newspaper report has just arrived from Nantes in France, where we arrived on 30th August in our shallop, the Royal Thamesis and Serena, a sandolo belonging to our rowing club, City Barge. As I explained in my previous post, we’d been asked to lead a procession of historic boats into the city as feature of their jazz festival – an activity holiday with a difference.

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I’ve also been sent these photographs of the sandolo, showing our standing up oarsmen being applauded by the crowds.

10620557_10152240262897821_5850021894383206567_n The traditional French rowing boats taking part such as Fille de la Loire, were also admired by thousands.

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Although a couple of gondolas took part, accompanying us some way down the River Erdre, I don’t remember seeing them in Nantes.

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There was certainly a huge variety of boats involved in the Rendez Vous de l’Erdre 2014.

Click here for another photo on the website of Club d’Aviron de Suce sur Erdre. 

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The 240 vessels taking part ranged from sleek period motorboats to a barge once used to transport cattle, which was now taking jazz musicians downriver.

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I loved seeing the steam boats or bateaux vapeur, including Ursula who was flying the flag of the SBA or British Steam Boat Association we once belonged to as a family.

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After mooring up in the basin at Nantes,

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the Mayor of the city treated us all to the most fabulous reception at the Hotel de Ville.

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We found that a feast awaited us.

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Hungry sailors and oarsmen were rewarded for their efforts

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with a variety of delicious things to eat

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and local wines.

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‘What did you do on your holidays?’

I am often asked what I get up to on holiday. We have just returned from Rendez-vous de l’Erdre in Brittany, when we rowed some forty-five kilometers down a tributary of the Loire, leading a procession of 240 traditional boats into Nantes.

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The journey started in Portsmouth,

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where the crew from our boat club, City Barge, gathered to load two boats onto the cross-channel ferry to Le Havre.

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We took Serena, a Venetian sandalo and The Royal Thamesis, a thirty-six foot shallop belonging to the Draper’s Company. Towing them from Oxford to Brittany was no mean feat, but other vessels from Great Britain had also made the crossing, including a thirty-three foot steamboat.

RDV flag

We launched the shallop at a pretty town called Nort sur Erdre where a jazz band was already playing to herald the festival de la Belle plaisance française.

RDV map

Stephanie Pasgrimaud from France Televisions Pays de la Loire came aboard to interview me – in French and English for the regional News on France 3.

Sophie Neville being interviewed on France 3 TV

That afternoon we rowed some way down to Monsieur et Madame Courant’s B&B on the river where we met up with other members of the party and stayed for the next four nights.

The gite

I had the most lovely room overlooking the water; chambre d’Empire.

Chambre d'Empire

As the mist rose the next morning we put up our canopy to transport our passengers downstream.

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We have a crew of six oarsmen,  with a cox and a wiffler. I alternated with others, taking on all three tasks.

Rowing the shallop

We row in medieval fashion, one oar each, seated on a fixed thwarts.  Please click on the image for a history of the vessel. You may have seen our boat if you watched the Queen’s Jubilee pageant, rowing in third place, while old Father Thames glared down from our badge on the stern, elvers peaking from his beard.

Father Thames

That first morning in Brittany we practised various manoeuvres before rowing a short distance to a boat club, where we moored for a picnic lunch.

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Here we met oarsmen from all over Europe.

Pauline with the Venitians

Including those who row standing up.

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We rowed on to moor up for the night at the small town of Suce-sur-Erdre

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where Stephanie was reporting on our progress for France 3.

France Television

Here the crews of the 240 boats taking part in the event were treated to a special dinner held outside with a jazz band playing sea shanties.

Diner with sea shanties

The organisers had brought together traditional boats, passé nautique, of many kinds.

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Although there were four steamboats and a number of canoes

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most were in the class  de voile-aviron ~ row and sail ~ principalement des bateaux de petites tailles, souvent anciens, et correspondent pour la plupart à des critères de rareté ou d’élégance.

French boats

At every stop for coffee or lunch, laid on by the festival au point de vue, we were accompanied by le jazz.

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It was phenomenal. Much was traditional but new experimental jazz was also being played to appreciative audiences.

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With the music came with the most amazing food.

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We were looked after beautifully.

Sophie Neville on the Erdre

Having eaten well, with our passengers aboard once more,

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we were honoured with the task of leading the procession of historic boats into Nantes.

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On the Sunday morning we were invited to the Hotel de Ville, the town hall

Sophie in Nantes

for a reception with speeches

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and prize giving when our club, City Barge, was awarded a very large bottle of red wine.

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