The Big Five (or six or seven): 2015 (going back to 1990)


This tea towel was a Christmas present, in 2015, from Lyn and Rob.  They had been to South Africa for a holiday in October, as part of Rob’s 60th birthday celebration.  When you go on a holiday like that, it can be the opportunity to buy some interesting Christmas presents, presents that no one else will get in England.  This is an example.  Lyn and Rob obviously really enjoyed their holiday, the stories, the photos, the memorabilia, the helicopter ride, the safari, the views, the gardens, the wine and much more.  One of the most interesting presents was mounted, used tea bags, made into tea  pot stands.  Of course, for me, the present of a tea towel was the most exciting!  I remember sitting on Christmas morning, with all the family, each of us getting some memory of their October holiday.

As I opened the tea towel, it took me straight back to 1990 and my holiday in Kenya.  It was the animals on the tea towel that triggered those memories.  My abiding memory of Kenya is the animals.  I had wanted to go to Kenya for a safari, not to go to Mombasa and just have a seaside holiday.  My memories are are so clear: blue, cloudless skies; travelling in a jeep over rough, unpaved roads; no matter how uncomfortable, the joy of coming across a herd of elephants, slowly wandering across the path and only moving in their own time, not bothered about you; looking across to the few trees on the horizon and seeing the giraffes, nibbling the leaves, way up high or perhaps catching the sight of a leopard lying along the branch of a tree, as the sun goes down; there was the excitement of seeing a rhino and its baby hiding behind a bush or seeing a large herd of zebra, so surprising in their colouring and reminding me of the Abbey Road LP album cover; there were antelope, hippo, crocodiles and the flamingoes.  Oh, the flamingoes, that mass of pink, literally hundreds of thousands of flamingoes, that stood on the lakes and then took off in a ‘flamboyance’ (what a great Venery Noun!!), returning all together, as a ‘stance’ (an alternative Venery Noun for flamingoes).  The sound of their wings; I think the flamingoes were the surprise of the holiday because I didn’t expect to see so many, or to be so mesmerised by them.  There was always the sunrise and sunset, so different from any other sunrise and sunset I have ever seen, deep orange fading through red to pale yellow with the silhouettes of the trees on the horizon.  I stayed at Treetops for a couple of nights, where the Queen learnt that her father had died and she was to be Queen; Treetops is a hotel on stilts, next to a watering hole.  From every bedroom window you could watch the animals come down to drink as the sun went  down and in the morning , very early, you could hear the animals return for their morning beverage.  You could travel for miles without seeing a village, a house, a shop, a car or a truck, a road sign but it felt like a ‘lived in’ landscape, the home of the animals.  Occasionally, you might come across a craft shop, mainly full of wooden carvings, designed for the tourists, but no tea towels.  I still have the rain stick I bought, designed to call on the Rain Gods during a drought.  I haven’t had to use it much in Leicester.

I have to say that there are two things ‘strange’ about this tea towel.  Firstly, it is considerably shorter than any British tea towels I have, something that I have commonly found with tea towels from abroad (except Italy where they are so much bigger) and secondly, I originally thought that this was a tea towel of the Big Five but then I realised there were 6 animals and didn’t include all the Big Five.  Then I thought that perhaps, in South Africa, there was something called the Big Six.  Of course, then I thought I needed to find out about the Big Five; this is a term from the time when groups of tourists, before environmental issues came to the fore, went on ‘shooting parties’.  The Big Five is a term that relates across all of Africa, referring the the animals that were most popular for hunting but were also they most difficult to catch.  The Big Five refers to Elephants, Leopards, Cape Buffalo, Lions and Rhinos so not Giraffes and Zebra.  Lyn and Rob saw all seven, so did I (and much more).

As I think back to Christmas Day 2015, I remember that there was one person missing: David was in hospital, having had a major stroke with a very uncertain prognosis.  We were planning our hospital visiting rota; it was very hard to celebrate when the Master of the Lighted Christmas Pudding was not with us.  One Christmas later, and David is still with us, a medical miracle.  I love this tea towel because it is very’African’ and has such good memories; wiping up certainly takes a lot longer – do I reflect on Lyn and `Rob’s holiday? Kenya in 1990? Christmas 2015? Christmas 2016?   Such a lot to think about.

Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum


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