Full of Christmas cheer, I went forth into the shops, and I am a person who loves Christmas. It wasn’t long though before I was transformed into Scrooge and was muttering “Humbug” under my breath! The queues; the unhelpful shop assistants; the grumpy faces; the children screaming; the Christmas CD playing on the tannoy; the inability to find anything decent to offer as a gift. Grrr!
“What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer…If I could work my will every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of Holly through his heart.” Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, Dickens
Image via Wikipedia
That was pretty much how I felt coming out of the car park (again a queue to get out!).
However, as I say, I love Christmas. I got home and my lovely boyfriend had made me a Christmas CD which we put on; we decorated the tree and turned my flat into a Christmas grotto.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future.” As above
“Dumb Cakes were a Christmas tradition reserved exclusively for single young girls keen to know who their husband would be. On Christmas Eve, maidens would make a cake in complete silence, place it in the oven and, at the stroke of midnight, open the front door. If they were in luck, their husband-to-be would appear, walk through the door and turn the cake.” Taken from Schott’s Christmas Miscellany I love this idea of a man just appearing like that – he was probably on his way home from the pub and smelled the cake cooking! But what happened to the girls who had no-one coming through their front door? Poor things…destined to bake in silence and stare out of the front door. At least they had a cake to comfort them. God bless Mrs Pankhurst!
So once the girls have baked their cakes in silence and their dream fellow has come through the front door, it’s time to bring on the mistletoe! Not so quick though – they’ve only got as long as the berries last!
Image via Wikipedia
“The custom of kissing under the mistletoe may be linked to the superstition that the plant had unique powers of fertility. One tradition is that every time a kiss is obtained under the mistletoe, a berry is removed; once the berries are gone, the kissing must stop.” Also taken from Schott’s Christmas Miscellany
We ventured out with our armed guard into the bush around the lodge. He didn’t speak but the way he slowly walked looking every which way created a frisson of fear.
We heard from our guide how animals can out run you, maul you etc and this had everybody expecting leopards to jump from the trees and have them for dinner. I made sure I stood as near to the man with the gun as possible.
We never went very far from the lodge but your imagination takes over. You feel intrepid. The first tracks we saw were elephants’ – with a baby in tow. I put my foot in Mum’s footstep and it was like an oversize dinnerplate. Then fresh leopard prints! Were we stalking him? Or was he stalking us? Colobus monkeys flew overhead from tree to tree (from the Greek word for deformed because they only have 4 fingers and no thumb). We passed the strangled/strangling fig tree with its’ beards growing down silently killing the tree it had taken over.
By this time it was growing dark in the forest and a sense of urgency developed. Our pace quickened a bit. Some more leopard prints and a hyena paw print – they were out there somewhere. We’d seen the animals around the water hole but that was from safety. Here we were the prey. The hyena prints led us to a hole – could belong to a hyena or to a warthog – they live in very similar holes. How does a warthog go in without knowing if there is a hyena in there? Quite simply, he goes in backwards so if anyone is in there he just gets bitten on the bum rather than having his face bitten off!
I love it when a country or an experience really gets to you. I have just come back from Kenya and I have to say I am in love! I went with no pre-conceptions, no idea what to expect and I was bowled over completely. Vast open landscapes, rolling plains dotted with giraffe, elephants, impala and all sorts of animals that I had only read about in books.
Zebra at Sweetwaters
The country varies so much though – we ventured from bustling Nairobi to the open plains of Sweetwaters to spot elephants in the rain – too wet for the cats. From there to the foot of Mount Kenya and followed our rifle toting (for protection only!) guide out onto a nature walk to find the shy leopard. She wasn’t to be found but her footprints were there, as were the hyena’s close behind.
Then into the great Rift Valley and a stay at one of the lakes that nestle at the bottom of this natural chasm. The landscape changed again and the waterfront licked the sides of open grassland and a lone male buffalo glared at us for interrupting him. We passed through forests of bright yellow fever trees, still looking for the elusive leopard who never showed her face. It would help if she wasn’t the same colour as the trees! The stars in the night sky and the frog chorus made it quite an ethereal experience.
A short flight and our experiences changed from land animals into fish and I braved the waters of the Indian Ocean to snorkel with some beautiful fish – not sure what they all were but they were all lovely and for a novice snorkeller it was incredible!
I left the country after such a short time, but I knew I’d been bitten by it – I will definitely be going back there. After all I still have to find my leopard…