India 1998. Hot!

We completed our visit to Jaipur with a look at its Red Fort, perched high above a lake in a picturesque setting and more impressive for it than Delhi’s Red Fort. Since access to the fort was by an ascent of a steep hill-and in searing heat, we were treated to elephant transport, climbing up to a scaffold and waiting to be loaded on to the howdah [a seat strapped to the elephant’s back which accommodates several passengers]. Once we were installed on the howdah our elephant commenced its stately, swaying saunter up the hill, accompanied by numerous peddlers of gifts and goods, who called up and gestured to us en route.

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Husband’s attention was captured by one of the traders, who was keeping up with us whilst carrying a large selection of hats. Husband is prone to buying wide-brimmed summer headwear and continues to expand his hat wardrobe to this day, littering the house with them, bought from varied sources and countries, so as we continued swaying up the path to the fort he negotiated for a hat he fancied, finally reaching a satisfactory price and having the hat tossed up to him where he sat.

We disembarked on to an identical platform at the top, the fort entrance and went to the interior, which was ornate and beautiful, with mirror-inlaid frescoes and intricately patterned ceilings.

Afterwards, waiting  for our coach we were entertained by watching the off-duty elephants bathing in the lake with their mahouts. And as we stood, the mahout, astride his elephant, approached us and gestured for us to place a rupee note on to the end of the elephant’s trunk, which we did, delighted as the elephant passed the money back to the handler. A cunning trick, and the kind of activity that Paratha frowned upon, but by now we’d had enough of her control freakery and were opting out of some of her rules, at one point asking the bus driver to let us off on the way to yet another of her factory outlets.

Next day we were off on the coach again, this time to a bird sanctuary where we were to take a tour of the reserve by rickshaw before spending the night in the custom-built hotel.

The temperature at the bird reserve was uncomfortably hot-and exacerbated by its humidity. This was a damp, marshy piece of land, a haven for birds but an endurance trial for tourists. Enthusiastic as we are about wildlife we wilted in the sticky, cloying heat. We took our bicycle rickshaw tour, accompanied by another rickshaw carrying Steve and Jane.

The reserve was home to, among others, weaver birds, who’d woven their tiny basket nests and suspended them from the pendulous branches of palm trees.

The hotel was a modern, concrete, two-story block. We were allocated a first floor room flanked by a wide balcony that ran the length of the floor. As dusk fell this balcony gathered a covering of beetle-type insects so thick we couldn’t walk anywhere except on the top of them. It was a thick, crunchy, beetle carpet and the air and every surface crackled with them. Walking into our room was like entering a steam oven. We would never be able to sleep inside it. We contemplated hauling the mattress on to the balcony and quickly pushed the thought aside when we looked at the beetle layer.

But we were lucky. Our friends’ room was directly below and many degrees cooler. Would we like to sleep on their floor? We didn’t hesitate and hefted our mattress over the rail.

Next morning we were to travel to the last point of the Triangle. Agra!

Hurt One or Two Living Things

Hurt No Living Thing

Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.

 

Christina Rosetti’s famous poem exhorts us all to refrain from harming tiny creatures; a lofty ideal, but one that is tricky to follow. I notice she keeps to insects that are both beautiful and/or harmless such as ladybirds or beetles and does not venture to suggest that we should preserve locusts, tsetse flies, head lice or maggots. And was Christina a vegan, I wonder?

It is easy to admire and wish to preserve ladybirds and butterflies. It is even possible to tolerate annoying wasps, who gyrate in an irritating, menacing fashion around your alfresco lunch if you adopt a laisser-faire attitude. And hornets should be given a wide berth at all times. For those of us, however who seem to be a favourite snack for mosquitoes, midges and any other blood sucking insects there is a strong desire to smash them into a pulp. Anyone who has lain awake tortured by the hot itching of myriad bites will understand this.

I’ve been attacked by most of the common, European biters. Years ago there was a local, Dorset, river dwelling blood sucker called The Blandford Fly whose bite induced ankle swelling akin to elephantiasis together with a flu-like fever. I’d had at least two of these before the little monsters were sprayed prior to hatching.

Of course in tropical climates there are some truly nasty insects-grubs that burrow into skin and eyes, wormy things that colonise the bodily systems. But here in France, in the pine woods of the south west my own, personal běte noir has to be the horsefly. If horseflies are beyond your experience consider yourself blessed.

My first real run in with them was a few years ago whilst enjoying an innocent cycle up a quiet lane in the forest of Les Landes. It was a hot afternoon, provoking sweat to erupt between my rucksack and the fabric of my T-shirt. As we passed a particular spot a swarm of horseflies erupted from the trees and up beneath the rucksack, biting as they went. The result was a constellation of itchy, angry, red, raised lumps that lasted for a couple of weeks.

Then last week, after a hot afternoon I emerged from the shower and sat to drag a brush through my wet hair, rising to glance in the mirror at the result. It looked as if two brown stickers had attached themselves to my face-one at the hairline, the other on my jaw. In my innocence I was slow to recognise the sinister, brownish, frog-with-a-touch-of spider [but without the charm of either] forms of horseflies, which had attached themselves greedily to my face and had begun feasting before I’d so much as dried off. While the itching has now subsided the scabby lumps persist. Now I am applying liberal dousing of repellent prior to each cycling jaunt, although this afternoon the little scamps were invading my helmet and ignoring the deterrent lotion by hitching a ride on my skin.

No, Christina I’m afraid exceptions must be made. Ladybirds and grasshoppers, yes-horseflies-NO.

Where the Wild Things Are.

                I can imagine, within a couple of generations, how society will be. In my mind’s eye society is a kind of dystopian techno nightmare like Paul Theroux’s ‘Ozone’, or Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, where everyone stays inside except for helicopter visits outside to see anything green, natural or wild. Or perhaps going ‘outside’ will involve some sort of virtual travel using screens, 3D and surround sound.

                An enduring memory from my children’s early childhood is of settling my daughter, aged about three, outside the back door of the house with some paint, water, brushes and paper, only to return to check on her and find she had ignored the paper and employed the paint and brushes in a project to enhance the appearance of the diminutive woodlice as they went about their business around her feet. This embellishment seemed to have no effect at all on the insects, although it may have transformed them into easily tracked, tasty titbits for predators.

                As a tot she loved the garden creatures, making baths for earthworms from flowerpot drip-trays, cradling long suffering frogs and making pets of snails. One such snail was a favourite, nurtured, fed tasty leaves and given regular baths. One day, in a fit of sibling rivalry her brother threw the beloved snail over the fence into the unkempt jungle of next door’s garden, prompting his sister to howl in inconsolable misery at the loss.

                “Don’t worry!” I reassured her. “I can get it back for you.” I ventured into the tangled maze next door, waist high in grass and weeds. The property of an elderly brother and sister, it had languished untended for many years, visited only by the many stray cats they’d acquired. I did not have to wade too far to find a snail, since the entire plot was a gastropod’s paradise. I returned, triumphant with the replacement. Her face was still contorted with rage and wails continued to issue from it.

                I proffered the captured snail, which had wisely shrunk back into its shell as if it had some premonition of the specialised treatment in store. There was a small moment of silence as she scrutinised the creature on the palm of my hand, before she yelled an ear-splitting shriek.

                “Waaah! That’s not the one!”

                Apparently, children today play outside half as much as their parents did, which strikes me as a depressing fact. Even now I far prefer the outside to the inside. As children we were outside all the time unless it was pouring with rain or we had to do homework [or Dr Who was on, in which case we’d have had our ‘tea’ anyway]. We were never supervised, but were always occupied. Quite a lot of the time, I seem to remember was spent on ‘digging for treasure’.

                The more our outside green space shrinks, the more we should be in it-protecting and appreciating it; and no one more so than our children, otherwise those works of fiction could become scarily real.