Archive for September, 2010

NEW PAXTON BOOK! The Diary of Abbot Buggly

September 30, 2010

Actually it’s an old Paxton book. My daughter, Annabel, wrote it over the first year of her life. With a bit of help from her Daddy.

Nothing quite like it has been written before as you will soon discover.

This is both the book’s strength and it’s commercial undoing.

I did the usual. I sent synopsis, sample chapters, author bio etc. to various agents and publishers. And they did the usual – nothing much.

It’s a little disheartening trying to get a book published. You send out your stuff and then wait. You then wait a bit longer. And then you receive nothing.

Forget bothering with the “I enclose a stamped self addresed envelope” routine. After not getting any replies after several hundred SAEs hadn’t come back I decided that somebody was simply steaming the stamps off the SAEs for personal use or was just bunging my submissions into the ‘slush bin’ en masse without even opening the original stamped and addressed envelope.

I am, by nature, an optimistic sort of fellow. And as book after book failed to receive a response I bore in mind (and still do) the fact that JRR Tolkien sent Lord of the Rings to fifty or so publishers before he was rewarded with a reply to the effect that ‘it was a good story but it will never sell.’  Beatrix Potter got the universal cold shoulder and resorted to self publishing. A lot of globally famous authors did the same. And Mozart died penniless and was buried in a pauper’s grave. I believe that to this day nobody is sure where his remains lie. Although Steve Hollier probably does.

Self publishing nowadays is largely a fool’s game. Yourself being the fool. Vanity publishers may promise the moon, but they charge the earth and that’s what you’ll hit with an arse shattering  bump as well as a bank account battering bill. Skip it!

‘Tis sound advice!

But back to Abbot Buggly. The manuscript did receive some responses and some publishers went so far as to send copies to readers for review. The comments were warm, flattering, encouraging and one word was consistently used.

‘Charming’.

But the book slots into no known publishing niche. Nobody knew what to do with it. Where it would sit in a bookshop shelf. It was risky. And although everybody enjoyed it, nobody published it. They expressed regret (which was nice of them) but Abbot Buggly remained and will remain a financial non-starter.

I earlier advised against self publishing. I’m now going to contradict myself. In a way.

I will publish it. In serial form on Hugh Paxton’s Blog. Last night I thought, “Hugh Paxton, what is the point of this book waiting in limbo in your computer? Bring it forth! Annabel’s column for Air Namibia’s inflight Flamingo magazine (written along similar lines) was tremendously popular. So share Buggly around! It’s a good story but it will never sell!”

“So don’t sell it! Stop being a literary miser forget the cash and give it away in this limited form as a freebie …”

It was one of those three in the morning thought processes. So I’ll spare you the rest of the ramblings.

Upshot?

A chapter every two days. I retain copyright of course. This edition is intended to be read on screen from this blog only, all other publication rights are strictly reserved until a deserving publisher signs me up on a lucrative contract!

Starting as of tomorrow. Hope you find it charming!

Cheers!

Hugh and the Abbot.

PS: Every book should have a cover. I have asked my brother to design it. I have every confidence that it will be totally in tune with the initiative! The WebCat makes web site and cover design walk and talk!

Brigitte’s Pick: The Divorced Barbie Doll

September 30, 2010

Divorced Barbie Doll

The Divorced Barbie Doll

One day a father gets out of work and on his way home he suddenly remembers that it’s his daughter’s birthday. He pulls over to a Toy Shop and asks the sales person, ‘How much for one of those Barbie’s in the display window?’

The salesperson answers, ‘Which one do you mean, Sir? We have: Work Out Barbie for £19.95, Shopping Barbie for £19.95, Beach Barbie for £19.95, Disco Barbie for £19.95, Ballerina Barbie for £19.95, Astronaut Barbie for £19.95, Skater Barbie for £19.95, and Divorced Barbie for £265.95’.

The amazed father asks: ‘It’s what?! Why is the Divorced Barbie £265.95 and the others only £19.95?’

The annoyed salesperson rolls her eyes, sighs, and answers: ‘Sir…, Divorced Barbie comes with: Ken’s Car, Ken’s House, Ken’s Boat, Ken’s Furniture, Ken’s Computer, one of Ken’s Friends, and a key chain made with Ken’s balls.

Thai Days: Another wildlife smuggling bust

September 30, 2010

Most illegal shipments of wildlife and wildlife products are, with the exception of ivory, confiscated on the way out of Thailand. The most recent arrest (Tuesday) at Bangkok international airport involved incoming criminality. The Bangladeshi smuggler ‘forgot to declare’ 1,140 Indian star tortoises stashed in his luggage. He also neglected to declare the baby crocodile (this too was in his luggage). Hugh Paxton’s blog will attempt to ascertain how many of the little fellahs died in transit – a lot of smuggled wildlife does. It is part of the ugly waste of the trade. I’ll also try to find out what is going to happen to the survivors.  

I extend this Blog’s congratulations to the alert and caring Thai Customs guys who rescued the tortoises, and the croc, and who righteously busted the Bangladeshi. May he serve time!

The Worlds Lungs: Forests and how to save them.

September 30, 2010

This week’s edition of The Economist carries a 14 page special report on the world’s forests. Well worth reading!

Suzi’s Bit: Wisdom or foolishness?

September 29, 2010

Kangwa is a house boy who every day drinks the wine of his NgoniBoss and puts water in the bottle to replace what he drank. But the Boss having suspicions as for the quality of the wine, he decides to buy pastis (a French wine that changes colour if you add water).

Kangwa as usual, takes a mouthful and add water to replace what he drank however, soon after he added water the pastis became milky.

When the Boss came back and noticed it, he was sure he had managed to nail Kangwa as thief!!! At that same moment Kangwa realized he was in trouble and decided to go into the kitchen.

The Boss told his wife, “Mary, you will see today, he will be obliged to acknowledge.” So he calls Kangwa. He shouted: ‘Kangwa!’

Kangwa answered: ‘Yes, Boss’

Boss: ‘Who drank my pastis?’

No answer.

The Boss reiterated his question: ‘Who drank my wine?’

Still; No answer.

Then the Boss went to fetch Kangwa from the kitchen and says to him: “You are insane or what? Why when I call you, you say yes boss’ but when I ask you a question you don’t answer me?”

Kangwa retorted that ‘It is that boss, when you are in the kitchen there, you don’t hear anything at all, except the name.’

Then to prove that Kangwa lies, the Boss says to him: ‘You stay beside Madam here, me I go in the kitchen, and you ask me a question .’ Kangwa accepted and the Boss went in the kitchen.

Kangwa shouted: ‘Boss’.

He answered: ‘Yes, Kangwa’.

Kangwa continued: “Who goes in the maid bedroom when the Madam is not here?”

No answer.

Kangwa shouted again: “Boss, I say who made the maid pregnant?”

No answer.

Kangwa shouted again (third time): ‘Boss, I say who made the maid pregnant?’

The Boss returns from the kitchen running and says, “Kangwa; it is true, you are right. When one is in the kitchen, one does not hear anything, only the name!”

A Pattern of Islands: Part seven (or is it eight?) in a series. The other Zanzibars.

September 29, 2010

Second of two parts.

There’s more to Zanzibar than Zanzibar Island. There are the other Zanzibar islands!

Places like Snake Island, Mafia Island, Prison Island and Uzi Island don’t sound particularly hospitable, but like Zanzibar itself most have a rich, curdled and exotic history of piracy, slave trading, sultans, mad British explorers, naval bombardments and buried treasure . . . Not to mention beaches, palms, incandescent sunsets all ringed by the Indian Ocean at its most beautiful — clear, blue green, the sort of liquid emerald that means tour brochure designers don’t have to touch up cover photos at all. (That must be a pleasant change for the cheating swine!)

Going into spasms while covered in chicken’s blood, dressed in a monkey skin and draped with human organs to a background of thumped drums and intoxicated whoops didn’t appeal to my wife, Midori.

So we didn’t visit Pemba, an island that is so famous for its voodoo that witch doctors apparently come from as far away as Haiti and the Congo to pick up tips. People we spoke to who had visited Pemba reported that voodoo is still concealed there.

Go to Pemba and you’ll get beaches, ruins, forest, sunburn, sea, stomach problems, romance — all that good reliable island holiday stuff, but the witch drums on Pemba beat distantly. Black arts may be thriving, but as Evelyn Waugh wrote in “Remote People” — “Nowadays everything is kept hidden from Europeans and even those who have spent most of their lives [here] have only now and then discovered hints of the wide, infinitely ramified cult which still flourishes below the surface.”

 The “Bradt’s Travel Guide to Zanzibar” — buy it, it’s the only good one — adds, “As it was in Waugh’s time, so it is today.”

It also cites a recent case of a witch doctor being arrested for “eating children in the course of his duties.”

But you, as a tourist, are unlikely to see any of that.

Unlike Grave Island, which holds British war dead from the antislavery campaigns. Lots of graves. You can’t miss them. 

Then there’s Prison Island — something of a misnomer, as a prison was built here but never went into service. Instead the building spent some time as a leper colony and quarantine station. The slightly creepy ruins still stand, as does the house of a British antislavery campaigner, and the island makes a very picturesque day trip from Zanzibar port. The giant tortoises of Prison Island have had a rocky ride. Four were presented to Zanzibar by the governor of Aldabra in the Seychelles in the 19th century.

They did well. By the mid 20th century the population was up to 200.

When the British granted Zanzibar independence in 1963, though, the tortoises began to disappear. By 1990 only 50 were left, the others having been stolen for the international exotic pet trade or for novelty dishes in restaurants. By 1996 just seven remained. In a desperate bid to stop the decline, 80 hatchlings were sent to Zanzibar Island for protection. Of these, 40 vanished in highly suspicious circumstances. The U.S.-based World Society for the Protection of Animals stepped in. It was nick-of-time stuff. There is now a guarded sanctuary and each tortoise has been fitted with its own microchip to assist with tracing and identification should it be taken by poachers.

Arboreal rats are another Prison Island specialty, as are crabs including the robber (or coconut) crab, which is the world’s heaviest crustacean and can weigh up to 4 kg. Should you encounter one keep your fingers to yourself — they are bellicose and their claws are strong enough to crack coconuts.

Snorkeling in the magically translucent waters that surround the Zanzibar archipelago is an experience that ranges from the breathtaking to the heart-rending. At one time these must have been the greatest Indian Ocean reefs in the whole of the East African coast. No longer. Fishermen have wrecked many of them.

This is both a human and an ecological tragedy. A living reef acts as both feeding and breeding ground for fish. One kilometer of undamaged reef can feed 1,000 people in perpetuity. Dynamite fishing not only kills all fish in the range of the blast, but also destroys slow growing coral. It’s roughly equivalent to blowing a hole in the door of one’s fridge to get at the milk or, to take a more conventional example, axing a goose that lays golden eggs.

Another singularly moronic local fishing technique involves a snorkeling team laying a net over a reef. The fishermen then flog the coral with iron bars. We observed one gang of five men beating a reef, each blow sending up puffs of shattered coral fragments and chunks of rubble. After 20 minutes they raised the net to find just five fish in i (one for each of the idiots), none of them more than 25 cm in length.

It would be wrong to paint a picture of total destruction. Some reefs are still intact and the game fishing is rated as world class.

One bright note is sounded on Chumbe Island, where ecotourism is very much alive and well in the form of comfortable solar-powered cabins complete with roofs designed to collect rainwater, and compost toilets. Trails have been laid through the beautiful forests and the coral is protected. Here one can enjoy encounters with reef fish as well as barracuda and endangered sea turtles.

Dolphin watching is becoming a well established local industry at Kizimikazi, which is frequented by Indo Pacific humpback dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. Travel to the islands is most atmospheric when done on a traditional Zanzibar dhow, but these single-sailed boats are slow and during the turbulent rainy season, March to May, excursions can verge on the life threatening. They also tend to roll. Apocryphal (hopefully) tales of drunken captains, shipwrecks and worse abound. But that’s Zanzibar for you — never short of a story.

A Pattern of Islands: Part six (or it seven?)in a series. Zanzibar

September 29, 2010

In the Pattern of Islands series Hugh Paxton’s Blog introduces some of the wonderful islands it has been my joy to visit.

ZANZIBAR: (First of two parts)

Zanzibar! Just eight letters, but what a wealth of romance they sum up! Like Timbuktu or Casablanca, the name itself is enough to draw travelers halfway around the world. And like Timbuktu and Casablanca, the reality of Zanzibar is sometimes somewhat different from the fevered imaginings of the traveler.

“The stench from the exposed sea beach, which is the general depository of the filth of the town, is quite horrible,” noted intrepid British explorer David Livingstone. “It might be called ‘Stinkibar’ rather than Zanzibar.”

But that was in 1866. And while Livingstone’s unflattering verdict held good for Zanzibar Town’s Stone Town district well into the 20th century, thanks to a drainage system installed by the Aga Khan’s charitable foundation, the traditional fragrance of sun, sea salt and spices is once again returning.

Though Stone Town still has its pockets of poisonous aromatherapy, and the political situation remains somewhat unstable, this cluster of Indian Ocean islands lying 45 km off the Tanzanian coast is definitely something special. As a visitor quoted in the excellent Bradt’s travel guidebook put it: “The history . . . Sultans, princesses, palaces, explorers, pirates, ivory traders . . . Wow!”

He could have added: “The shortest war in history; slave traders and slave-trade busters; smugglers; spice gardens; wrecks; lost palaces; translucent coral seas; ruined leper colonies; and the birthplace of rock group Queen’s singer Freddie Mercury.” (Yes, really, the Persian father of Freddie, aka Farouk Bulsara, moved here from India to work as an accountant for the British government. No wonder the lad turned out to be so colorful).

The visitor’s “wow” was about right, though. Zanzibar has a very fat slice of romance, history, tragedy, farce, turmoil and unhappy ghosts.

Most visitors begin their Zanzibar experience by checking into a guesthouse in or near Stone Town, the ancient heart of Zanzibar. Then they take their guidebook or map and go out to explore.

And then they get lost.

Stone Town hasn’t changed much since the 19th century, when another British explorer, Richard Burton, described the streets as “threads of a tangled skein.” Wonky buildings lean crookedly out over narrow meandering alleys, sometimes barely a meter wide. Every twist and turn leads to something unexpected: a cramped courtyard filled with radio parts and two men wrapped in white robes fiddling with widgets and screwdrivers in silence; an open ground-floor window offering a glimpse of solemn children learning to recite the Koran; a tiny bazaar; an abrupt flight of stone steps leading to an old wooden balcony covered in flowers; an irritating man who won’t go away until you’ve booked a life-threatening trip on his brother’s dhow to his brother’s beach hotel.

It’s all perplexing. Disorienting. Intriguing.

The houses, many of which are three or four stories tall, could not be described as being in the best of health. Many were built out of soft coral rock and look dangerously close to the point of collapse. But this, in a way, is Stone Town’s charm. It has been likened to an African Venice: ancient, ailing, but still standing. The analogy is particularly apt when heavy rains turn the streets into impromptu canals.

Noteworthy are some of Stone Town’s doors. Traditionally the door was the first part of a house to be erected, and many are intricately carved with quotations from the Koran and even pre-Islamic symbols thought to be derived from Ancient Egypt. The inclusion of iron bolts and studs is an Indian influence, originally designed on the subcontinent to deter war elephants from pushing in doors with their foreheads.

No elephants remain on Zanzibar today, though when Marco Polo swung by in the 13th century, he described “elephants in abundance.”

Some visitors are saddened by the aura of decay but should take heart in the knowledge that the United Nations Habitat program is currently, if sluggishly, attempting to restore Stone Town’s buildings to their former glory.

The harbor nearby jostles with water craft, most noticeably the dhows: single-sheeted sailing boats that ply the East African coast, unchanged in design for centuries.

And then there are the sunsets: magnificent African extravaganzas that fire the sky and tinge the quays, the sails, the rippling water, the sailors struggling with ropes and baskets of fish with a magnificent blend of light and shadow.

After they’ve found their way out of Stone Town, the tourists disperse. The beaches of Zanzibar are the sort that good sun-worshippers go to after they’ve died of skin cancer. Heavenly. Huge, white-sanded, lapped by clean, green water, fringed with palms and tangled tropical vegetation. They are also uncrowded, sometimes totally deserted. Simply locating a guesthouse and flopping over for the rest of the holiday is a temptation to which some succumb. But it’s rather a waste. The main island of Zanzibar, referred to by almost everybody as Zanzibar though its current official name is the unlovely Unjuga, has a lot more up its sleeve.

Monsoon winds have made commerce between Zanzibar and Arabia, Persia and India possible for thousands of years, and the slave trade has left its stamp in the form of once-grandiose palaces built by profiteering sultans. Many have been “forgotten” and are crumbling in picturesque ruin. There are also Persian baths out in the countryside; rather moldy and home to bats.

Although the British outlawed the traffic in human flesh, it persisted, and the so-called Slave Cave carved into coral rock north of Zanzibar Town was used as a storage chamber. One tourist described it as having “bad vibes.” This we cannot confirm — our crummy rental car blew a gasket in thick mud on the jungle road. We never got there.

And, of course, Zanzibar is just one of many islands in the archipelago. In part two of this post , we will hit the Jozani Forest, fail to take a usable photo of its famous colobus monkeys, buy more spice than is sensible, then hop in a boat and check out the offshore islands.

Munich’s English Garden: Oktoberfest hangover cure

September 28, 2010

Well, it’s that time of year in Munich again! The liter-sized steins are being filled by beefy barmaids. Lederhosen and silly hats are being donned. The plaster demons of Herr Schichtel’s horror show are fresh with newly sprayed cobwebs, while the calliopes roar and roller coasters whirl and turn. Last year, roughly 7 million people visited what the Munich Oktoberfest organizers claim is “the largest and most popular festival in the world.” Between them they drained 6,459,100 liters of beer, while washing down more than half a million pork sausages, 94 oxen and countless tons of salty, thirst-provoking pretzels (invented by shrewd Munich brewers). It is still a gay and gorgeous revel.

Offering an eye of tranquillity and calm in this annual storm of accordions, brass bands and bawled-out drinking songs is the Englischer Garten (English Garden), among Europe’s greatest city parks and one of the finest assets of Munich. It is, in a word, blissful. Before going into the English Garden, though, a bit about the Oktoberfest. After all, most people are only here for the beer.

Strictly speaking, it should be called the Septemberfest. Most of it takes place in September, because September (by and large) is warmer in Germany. The debauch lasts 16 days and ends on the first Sunday of October, so this year there’s more of it happening in October than usual. The event, which originated in a horse race held to mark the engagement of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Theresa in October 1810. Munich, incidentally, despite Allied bombing in World War II, is a city blessed with a huge quantity of old buildings. (Some, admittedly, are new but exactly resemble the old ones that were flattened.)

 More than 100 days in the year are designated a festival of some sort or other in Munich. The Fasching carnival in January is particularly prone to pandemonium, with 2,500-plus balls, masked marches and guild events. There are days when lots of beer is drunk to commemorate the departure of a plague or an enemy army, or the arrival of the year’s first strong beer, or some obscure marriage ages ago, or . . . well, frankly, any excuse seems to suffice, with the proviso that it involves beer. The stuff is in Munich’s blood. Oktoberfest, though, is the biggest of the beer-drenched blowouts.

Someone in a terribly silly hat and a sort of 13th-century peasant outfit lunged up to me in a beer tent and gave me a lot of what would have been really useful statistics on how many breweries there are in Bavaria and Munich, German brewing purity laws, etc. Fascinating. Jotted them all down on a beer mat. The beer mat, inexplicably, vanished several hours before my hangover did the next day. All a bit of a blur really, the Oktoberfest.

The English Garden! It opened in 1793 and extends almost 5 km in length. It abuts the Bohemian Schwabing district of the city, Germany’s answer to Montparnasse in Paris or New York’s Greenwich Village. Birthplace of the Blaue Reiter movement, beloved by such illustrious characters as Thomas Mann and Berthold Brecht, Schwabing is still, in the words of the cliche, “not so much a place as a state of mind.”

Although called English, the garden was the brainchild of an American loyalist adventurer called Benjamin Thompson who sided with the British during the Revolutionary War. Thompson was strongly influenced by the famous English landscape gardeners Capability Brown and William Chambers. French gardening notions such as geometric avenues and mercilessly regimented topiary, then favored by the Bavarian aristocracy, were chucked gaily out of the window by Thompson and his local counterpart, Ludwig von Sickell.

Instead they planted woods, installed shady dells, sculpted rushing brooks, meadows, lawns, and hills and valleys. Thompson also, for reasons of his own, introduced pigs and potato plantations. These features are now gone. The rest, though, are still there.

It’s the sort of area, despite being a city park, where you would not be surprised to see wild boar or red deer charging about. One thing you are guaranteed to see, at least on sunny days, are hordes of stark naked Germans rolling around on the lawns or wandering through the trees.

Such behavior in an English English garden would lead to arrest and prosecution for indecent exposure. Not in a German English garden though. No one (apart from Hugh Paxton’s Blog trying to take a photo of the place that does not include a naked woman) seems to bat an eyelid.

The gardens boast a number of buildings of note. There is (but of course) a beer garden. On one grassy knoll stands the Monopteros love temple. There is a Cantonese pagoda rather similar to the one in London’s Kew Gardens.

To commemorate the catastrophic 1972 Olympic Games, the Japanese government presented Munich and the gardens with a Japanese teahouse, which sits prettily on a small island in a lake of swans.

Of historical interest is the Haus der Kunst (House of Art), formerly known as the House of German Art. This Hitler-era structure hosted the infamous 1937 exhibition of “degenerate art.” The plot was to stage two separate art exhibitions, one full of good old Aryan stuff painted with what Hitler called “normal” colors. The other, by contrast, was hung with “degenerate” avant-garde works by sickos like Kandinsky, Mondrian and Chagall.

The popular response to the shows must have considerably irritated Teutonic purists. More than five times as many people flocked to view the depravities as visited the German art. So, that’s the English Garden for you. A green and private place to soothe those Oktoberfest headaches in tranquility. Prost!

Bothered by Boars? Try Lion Dung

September 28, 2010

Israeli soldiers guarding the border with Syria have pioneered a new wild boar repellant. Annoyed by the boars – which kept crashing into their electric fence and triggering alarms – they decided to resolve the issue by scattering lion dung.

Apparently it’s working. Quite why, I have no idea. Lions have been regionally extinct for centuries. But Hugh Paxton’s blog takes its hat off to the Israeli soldier who came up with the lion dung/boar repellant scheme. 

If the Israeli military has time I’d like to know

a) where the lion dung comes from? A zoo presumably.

b) how fresh does it have to be to work?

c) how much needs to be applied?

d) how much is being applied?

I ask out of idle curiosity. I’m not currently being bothered by wild boars but if, at some time in the future, I am, this information could be useful.

I hope to hear from you.

Shalom.

Thai Days: Someone’s Been Blowing Up Bangkok -We Want to Know Who.

September 27, 2010

A bomb exploded outside the Royal Turf Club in Dusit yesterday. Damage but no injuries.

A bomb exploded outside a grocery shop in Rama III Rd on Friday. Two teenage girls and a man in his 50s injured.

Later on Friday another bomb went off in Soi Chakphrah 16 in Taling chan district. No injuries. But some guy’s car needs serious  bodywork.

Nobody has claimed responsibility and the choice of targets is confusing to say the least. Not to mention utterly pointless. Nobody in human history has altered government policy by hurting two school girls, a 50 year old and smashing a grocery shop’s windows.   

Hugh Paxton’s Blog would like to know who keeps blowing up bits of Bangkok and is offering 100,000 Baht for information leading to the arrest of the culprit(s).

Actually, and truth to tell,  the police are the ones offering the 100,000 Baht bounty but if you are wary of ‘direct dealings with the police you can tell us and we’ll tell them. Anonymity guaranteed. No hoaxes.  My suggestion is that the 100,000 be divided between the totally innocent victims of Friday’s attack and  the whistle blower. Should I be blown up as a reprisal I’d like a slice of the reward action, too!    

Thanks! Eyes peeled! Ears open! Let’s get ’em!

Hugh


%d bloggers like this: