September 2019 Competition Results: Ed Davey – Adjudicator

Firstly – congratulations to our winners of 200 year celebration of Keats’ Ode! 

First Place: The Picking Party by Colin Johnson

Second Place: The Coffin Walk by George Rodger

Third Place: An Imagined Letter to John Keats by Mark Eyles

Highly Commended: Autumn Ode by Gill Hollands

Highly Commended: To Swell the Gourd by Viv Smith

 

The September competition was judged by travel writer, journalist and novelist, Ed Davey.   The brief was to write a travel article in 300 words.

And the winners were:

First Place:  The Christmas Hippo by George Rodger    

Second Place: Cool Runnings Catamaran by Lynn Clement

Third Place: An Island of Contradictions by Frank Carver       

Highly Commended: The Bear by Rosie Sutcliffe  

Highly Commended: Viet Mong by David Lea       

George and Ed

Winner, George Rodger, with Tuesday’s speaker, Ed Davey.

   Photo by Alex Carter

First Place: The Christmas Hippo by George Rodger   

Hippo

The Christmas Hippo – a week spent at Royal Zambezi Lodge, Zambia

Groucho Marx said, “I woke up one morning in Africa, walked out of my tent and shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How he got into them, I’ll never know”.

Here I was, in my pyjamas, outside a tent in Africa trying to shoot a hippo. With a camera. Despite being such massive, lens-filling icons, hippos are very shy creatures and when approached, tantalisingly show their heads and twitching semaphore ears before sinking from view. At night they come ashore to graze. I gave up and returned to bed. It was before dawn and we were spending Christmas in a tented unit in Royal Zambezi Lodge in Zambia.

The lodge’s slogan is “Where Luxury meets the Wild”. Leave the bar after dark and an armed guard escorts you to your tent. You never know what’s walking around the camp at night! Each riverfront unit is on stilts to cope with the rise and fall of the Zambezi. Raise your head from your cotton pillow in the morning and you look straight across the river to Zimbabwe, two kilometres away.

There are game drives in four-wheel drive vehicles daily although many people come to Royal Zambezi for the fishing. The King of the River is the Tigerfish. It rises out of the water like a Marlin, dancing on its tail as he tries to throw the hook. The Tiger is pure muscular aggression, from its broad tail to its terrifying mouth with teeth that are a Jurassic nightmare. It can remove an unwary angler’s finger and are fast enough to have caught low-flying birds.

By Christmas Day, I still hadn’t got near enough to a hippo to capture a really memorable photograph. We were drifting downstream on the boat when suddenly our guide whispered, “Hippos, right behind us” as a pod emerged out of the water into the fiery path of the sunset reflected on the river. I trained my camera and finally got one, mouth open, laughing.

And not a Marx Brother in sight.

Second Place:  Cool Runnings Catamaran by Lynn Clement   Cool runnings jpegThird Place: An Island of Contradictions by Frank Carver  

Weather information is online these days, so I am prepared for the 38-degree heat. The surprise is the altitude. I do not consider its elevation until we step from the plane in Salt Lake City. A lake as high as the top of Ben Nevis.

We drive for an hour through the city to the ragged edge of the street grid and finally the long curve of a causeway. Ahead a white and silver blur, salt flats blending into the lake edge. Beyond that, the hazy bulk of Antelope Island State Park. Gulls wheel above the salt water, seven hundred miles from the ocean.

A park ranger explains about geography, history and wildlife. “With the shrinking lake and the new causeway, it’s not really an island anymore.” The ranger taps the flint spearhead shape of the park on a scale model. “and the ‘antelopes’ are not antelopes, but closer to giraffes.”

From the beachside car park, the lake looks much further away. The path submerges in a low dune, but we carry on, each pace cracking a crisp layer of salt beneath our feet, crème brûlée in silver-grey.

Everything appears fuzzy near the waterline. Our movements disturb millions of tiny flies which swirl and disperse, never rising more than a few centimetres. They don’t bite but their patterns are mesmerising, shifting with every step.

We abandon shoes and socks without fear of rising tides, wade into the warm shallow water and pause, calf deep, enchanted by underwater clouds of pale brine shrimp which dance around our legs. Too salty for predatory fish, there’s nothing to keep the shrimps from multiplying. In front of us the Great Salt Lake shimmers into the distance. Behind, the parched brown spine of the island rises another thousand feet.

Highly Commended: The Bear by Rosie Sutclfife

The path wound between magnificent conifers, skirting the shoreline of the brackish lake, towards the large wooden shed. I hesitated at the entrance aware that this was the beginning of a twelve-hour vigil and like a diver about to plunge into deep water, I took a great gasp of fresh, pine scented air before lunging into the warm, musty darkness of the hide.

Finland was all about long forest treks, bracingly cold spring water, the thrill of venturing onto the no mans land fringe of the Russian border. The afternoon had passed with a ponderous circumnavigation of the lake by canoe, followed by a tentative five minutes in the sauna and even more tentative toe dipping in the lake. Now was to come the highlight of the trip, a night of midnight sun, or at least a dusk, followed rapidly by a dawn and with luck a sighting at some point of a European Brown Bear.

I sat motionless, eyes straining to catch that elusive glimpse of the great boreal ursus. Hooded crows, hardly seeming related to their malachite British cousins descended in flurries of frenetic activity as the hours passed. I grew stiff from staying motionless, like a Buddhist monk practising tranquillity ,  I reached a state of quiet stillness.

Suddenly, silently, a subtle parting of the bushes as a great bear emerged and padded towards the hide, strings of drool hanging from its expectant maw as nostrils flexing it sought the nuts and berries hidden to lure it to us.

A great wave of emotion pulsed through me, a kind of wild excitement rarely felt in adulthood, mixed with a powerful awe for this majestic creature. Breaking the stillness I reached for my camera to capture the moment. Too late. The bushes closed over his departing form. The memory embedded in my mind must suffice.

 

Highly Commended: Viet Mong by David Lea

We arrived at the entrance to Angkor Wat early one morning towards the end of our sixteen-day “Asian Adventures Guided Tour to Vietnam and Cambodia”. There were twenty-four of us, mostly late-middle-aged, mostly retired and mostly biddable and uncontentious. Over the previous two weeks we had shared tuk-tuks through the Hanoi traffic, visited Uncle Ho’s mausoleum and gone down the Viet Cong tunnels; we had shared imodium tablets, exchanged confidences and swapped biographies: we had bonded.

Affinities and preferences had been established and, each morning, there were unspoken manoeuvres as we made for the seats on the coach near our own special friends. Nobody wanted to sit next to John: six feet three or four and in his late sixties, he wore synthetic red shorts, luminous trainers and a Hanoi T-shirt.

That morning at Angkor, our guide, Saroath, was introducing us to the site when he was interrupted by John: ‘What’s a mong?’ he snorted, casting about for someone he could share the joke with.

‘Saroath was talking about monks, John. Over there by the steps.’ John’s wife pointed to the young monks in their robes.

‘I was raised by monks,’ said Saroath, although, again, what we actually heard was, ‘I was raised by mongs’.

A stifled giggle from John and an awkward silence.

Then someone asked, ‘Why were you brought up by monks?’

‘My parents died when I was three: the Khmer Rouge murdered them. It is not unusual.’

The next day, John decided against the optional tour to the floating village. His wife came with us, but John spent the day floating on his back in the hotel swimming pool. At the buffet breakfast the following morning, he glowed.

He shone. He radiated heat.

He was a bright and painful, sunburnt pink.

And the group bond was decidedly stronger.

 

 

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