Saturday, 30 July 2011

60% Banana

THIS is me, many years ago, making a fool of myself in the centre of Birmingham. I've made a fool of myself in a similar manner several times since, including in a student newspaper that is also archived in the British Library.

Now, inspired in part by these deeds and in honour of my birthday*, my friend Phil has created some rather splendid t-shirts over at his Evilflea SpreadShirt shop. All profits go to The Hoja Project, an educational charity working in Tanzania. If you can, it would be great if you could support him and the charity by buying one of these marvellous garments, or as Phil puts it:
We puny humans share 60% of all our DNA with the mighty banana. I think this needs to be more widely known.

*this is not at all a coincidence

This woman is a bit more than 60% banana (organic, too):

Monday, 25 July 2011


WHEN we were driving back down the Western Australia coast in 2009, we spent a night in Kalbarri, a town that felt like an oasis in the middle of a jungle. Turning off from the North West Coastal Highway, we drove for several hours through the Kalbarri National Park, thunderstorms threatening to erupt around us. After a day of solid driving, the road took us for several hours even further away from nowhere along a flat and uninspiring landscape. Driving became a mission to simply arrive, eat and rest, and consequently we missed the moment the road dropped away, revealing sudden and unexpectedly dramatic vistas looking down to the Murchison River far below. Rich bush coated the river basin; steep ravines and adventurous terrain replaced the flat monotony. It was a jungle among scrubland. Through this landscape we slowly descended to the riverside town of Kalbarri, at the mouth of the Murchison into the Indian Ocean, arriving late in the afternoon. The town was a welcome sight, an outpost existing beyond the known world, serviced by a giant road loop that serves Kalbarri and Kalbarri alone. It was a small town, not especially glamorous, but its location and geography made up for it all. A spit covered the harbour entrance, with waves breaking even further out on submerged rocks, sending spray and swell towards the sand bar that stood as lord and protector over a gentle community that basked in the calm of the estuary and the town’s prime location in the recesses of the wild west coast.

This was a town for all kinds. Syrup’s Health and Gourmet Shop provided our first gluten-free experience in quite some time, where a slightly frizzled lady sold us rolls and spoke to us with more authority about coeliac disease than any shop here or at home has done since. The bar and hotel was a true outback ramshackle affair – plastic chairs, beer and lotto. Caravan and trailer parks nestled alongside luxury hotels. Our own campsite felt like somebody’s back garden. A gossip of galahs pecked at food on a roadside lawn, jumping with fright as each car passed. People loitered by the bottle shop, while others sipped coffee outside cafes. In the evening we ate at a world-famous establishment known as Finlays Fish BBQ, a fine dining establishment set inside an old fish factory that offers ‘no service, no corkage, no glasses and no frills’, all inside a tin shed. It was brilliant. We devoured our plate of fish and meat with glee, and the resident cat chewed our leftover prawn shells with even greater enjoyment.

Startled galahs

Sadly our time in Kalbarri came to an end far too quickly, and as we set out the following morning to complete our loop back to the north-south highway, we rued our chance to explore further. But there was one last treat, for Kalbarri was home to a seahorse sanctuary.

Millions of seahorses are taken from the wild each year to be sold as pets, depleting coral reef ecosystems and harming already endangered wild populations. Buying such creatures is not only harmful but a false economy, for wild seahorses tend not to survive in the artificial conditions of a tank and do not naturally eat dead fish food sold by aquaria. The Seahorse Sanctuary in Kalbarri existed not only to breed seahorses, thereby preventing further damage to wild populations, but to wean them on to frozen fish food, increasing their chances of survival as pets and thereby their value for money. Where wild seahorses typically die in captivity after 5-6 weeks, sanctuary seahorses can survive for up to 6 years. The sanctuary was a pet industry business that provided both a better solution for customers and a tenable conservation objective.

As an attraction it was pretty good too. For its size (one room) there was a lot to see and do, taking you through the process from breeding through seahorse school and on to graduation. Mixed with pipefish and older seahorses, young seahorses were taught by demonstration to eat frozen shrimp, to become big and strong and to make their parents proud. The creatures were colourful, flamboyant and rather lovely to watch, and we spent a good hour making friends and chilling out with the seahorses. Brilliantly, the venture was sponsored by Guylian.

Then off we drove, on to Dongara-Port Denison, Cervantes and then Perth, and this story was forgotten.

Then on Friday I discovered that the Seahorse Sanctuary in Kalbarri has closed. This makes me really sad and I can offer no additional information as to what has happened. I can only hope that the good work of the sanctuary is being continued by others elsewhere. I would be grateful that if anybody knows anything more about the sanctuary’s closure they would share it, as this is truly a loss. In the meanwhile, may I salute the efforts of Michael and Wendy Payne over the past 10 years towards the protection of wild seahorse populations.

Monday, 18 July 2011

We can grow beards (if we want to)

ROWHEATH Pavilion, in the heart of Bournville, is a sports pavilion and function complex, built in 1924 by the Cadbury family as a clubhouse for the recreational facilities they made available to their workers. In the 1970s, ever stricter health and safety regulations saw the demise of its lido, and over time the building fell into disrepair. Successive attempts to manage the building failed and it was eventually closed down. It was re-opened in 1985 by a local management group, who struggled to keep it afloat. One of their building users was the Trinity Church, which had previously met in a house in Selly Oak. With financial troubles at Rowheath continuing, Bournville Village Trust asked Trinity to operate the Pavilion under a management agreement. Trinity would later sign the lease on the building, and over time Trinity became the Pavilion Christian Community, which would assume full day to day running of Rowheath Pavilion. Trinity’s ambitions for the building differed to all previous management groups of the building for it sought not to run the building for profit but for the local population, to restore Rowheath to its central role in Bournville as clubhouse, venue and community centre. Little did they know at the time that in 2011 it would be invaded by 17 strange, voluntarily hairy Australians with a penchant for harmonising.