Who’s been stealing my grapes?

Last year it was the fruit rats. And the year before. And the year before that …

We had initially thought that it was birds though and I spent hours going through old CDs for the ones I didn’t want or need, and then hanging them with shiny Christmas ribbon in the hope that as they danced in the breeze the reflection and movement would scare the birds away.

It didn’t happen. However brilliant the idea, it was never going to save the grapes.

As we waited for the grapes to grow large and succulent and turn deep red in the hot summer sun, so too the rats waited. I remember last summer the tomatoes had survived, so maybe the rats weren’t around? Each day I’d go and check on my crops and put off harvesting for just one more day of ripening and developing flavour.

But that one day was crucial. How could so many bunches disappear in one night? Exactly how many rats were there? It seemed impossible that they could feast on so many grapes and not be lying in a overindulgent heap on the ground the next day. Instead the ground was littered with the remains.


So this year the grapes were still green and the vine was prolific. We’d never had so many bunches before. I was optimistic that we would finally get to taste them or, dare I say, eat some. The grapes were still at least a couple of weeks from ripening when I saw the debris, a few discarded grape skins and stems scattered on the ground at my feet.

Was it the unusually hot weather causing the rats to change their eating behaviour? Did they now like the unripened grapes or were they simply trying to make sure they were one step ahead of me?  The following day the mess below the vines was worse and the day after that more grapes had been plundered.

Should I get a cat? My dog would not like that. I scoured the internet for fruit rat deterrents, to no avail. The next morning as I sat on my deck pondering and drinking my first cup of tea for the day, a noisy chatter and fluttering of wings announced their arrival. Right there in front of me, not two meters away, the thieves flaunted themselves, hanging upsidedown and sideways, defying gravity and eating my bloody grapes. Their screeching and whirring was incessant and even when I stood directly underneath them they were so confident they were reluctant to leave their morning fruit platter.

I’ve resigned myself to sharing my food with the ‘neighbours’. Even though they are a pest, they bring  colour, vibrancy and life. Again I pondered at how with their beauty I allow them to feast, whereas had it been the not so beautiful rat what would I have done?

I wonder is this a parable to how we treat people differently according to their outward appearance?


The rainbow lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) is a declared pest in Western Australia (WA). It is a small, brightly coloured parrot that was introduced to WA during the 1960s.


In The Gathering Dusk


In Zanzibar, dawn and dusk are often the best parts of the day. One of my favourite places to be at dusk is Forodhani gardens on the waterfront in Stone town. They lie in front of the House of Wonders and the Old Fort.

It’s always been a place where the  local boys cool off after a hot day. They gather and show their prowess at leaping off the seawall with cartwheels, somersaults or running leaps into the, sometimes, not so deep water.

At sunset a food market begins and people gather to wander and select from the large array of local Zanzibar foods. Once the food market was simply a small gathering of shabby stalls set up on makeshift tables or served from the basket on the back of a bicycle. We’d cycle down there and get a bowl of ‘mixi’ for a few shillings then sit on a small wall or in the dusty grass. Now, since the Aga Khan paid to restore them to what must have been there formal splendour in the days of the Sultans, they are more elaborate and the food stalls have table cloths and the grass is no longer a place to walk or sit on. It’s still very lovely though.


Bald to Beautiful


I first became interested in henna when I lived in Zanzibar. Weddings and other celebrations involved lavish henna application to hands, arms, legs and feet. 

Henna has been used for centuries as a part of many cultural traditions and thus the symbolism within the art is varied. It has become an important part of the expression of culture and has daily and ceremonial use. Henna has traditionally been regarded as having blessings and was applied for luck as well as joy. It has also more recently become a form of body art and way of expressing body image.

My daughter as a young teenager found she had a natural gift for henna art, which also gave her an income. Recently a friend undergoing chemotherapy asked my daughter to do a henna crown. The results were stunning…

My friend said it allowed her to go out of the house without self-consciously covering her head – she felt ‘dressed’.


On The Way Across the Moors

On the way from one North Yorkshire village to another there are always a few spectators by the side of the road, or occasionally in the middle of the road.


I remember one heady teenage summer I used to cruise around the moors on the back of my boyfriend’s Triumph Bonneville motorcycle. The evenings were long and balmy and we often met friends for a drink in one pub or another. We were heading over the top of the moors to Rosedale Abbey and enjoying the sweeping turns of the open road, the feeling on the wind in our faces and the thrill of motorcycling, when a sheep ran straight in front of us. I remember my knee striking the sheep, then we were bouncing through heather before coming to a sliding stop. The peaty ground and heather afforded a more forgiving landing than tarmac. A few bruises; we were lucky. The sheep trotted off into the setting sun. After straightening the front forks we were able to continue on our way too, a little slower and a little wiser.


There are Mornings and there are Mornings.

It’s almost Sunday here. Saturday morning seems a long way away. It turned into a good one. I live a fortunate life for which I remind myself frequently to be grateful for. I woke very early knowing that I had to get up. Those sensations again, difficult to describe: singing in my ears, a vague far away feeling, confused thoughts. I raise my head then swing my legs off the bed and head for the kitchen. I know I’m shaking and open the fridge. Juice. I need sugar. I don’t bother with a glass and drink straight from the bottle. Then I check to see how bad.

The small bead of blood forms on my finger tip moments after I felt the pin prick. I push my finger to the strip that sticks out of the small machine and hear the beep. Seconds later a number flashes on the screen; 2.8, too low. I grab a mini-Snicker out of a tin. It’s gone in seconds. I need food. My body craves it. Everything tells me to eat except my logic; that tells me have a banana and go back to bed, you’ll be fine. I don’t because the urge to eat more is stronger, much stronger. I open the tin again and this time it’s a mini-Twix.  Now, banana or bread? The bananas look a little green; bitter.  I choose the bread; fresh home-made, brown and filled with seeds. The shaking has already stopped and I’m not sweating, but I eat it anyway. Over the years I have become familiar with how my body works now that it no longer produces its own insulin.

Outside it would have been light for at least an hour already. I stand undecided. Should I make a cup of tea and sit recovering, watching the day begin, or go back to bed for an hour? My eyes and head feel heavy so I head back to the bedroom. Minutes after my head sinks into the pillow I’m asleep.

The alarm wakes me. I shouldn’t have gone back to bed. Now I feel sluggish. I’m supposed to be at the beach in half an hour. I’m meeting a friend and we’re walking our dogs. If I hadn’t already made the arrangement I’d go back to sleep, but that would be giving in to this thing that has tried to rule my life for so many years, and I won’t let it.

Blue, blue, blue. The sky is cloudless and the sea is broken only by the thin white break at the reef. I step off the path onto the pale sand and feel it hot beneath my feet. Waves gently lap on the hard sand of a low tide. I can make out the patches of weed and reef as the water is like glass. My dog bounds off in sheer joy to boisterously greet her friends. They cavort around in the shallows, blending sand and water. I breathe in the air, look  out at the ocean and feel my shoulders drop and my rib cage expand. Each day the beach is a little different, but in these long hot summers I nearly always swim and whatever the weather, I walk. There is a smile on my face already as I look for my friend who can’t be far away and I let my mind forget the start to the day for I have this, my new beginning. Me time.


Another beautiful morning on the beach with my dog