DAILY PROMPT: Everything I know about his/her body in 6 minutes


 She weighs 39 kilograms and is 1.6 metres tall. Her skin is pale but not totally because there are areas that rarely feel soap or water. Those patches, beyond her cuffs, collars and hems, are grubby, grey and would benefit from a brillo pad scrub. Her toes have wide spaces between them where there should be some flesh with nails growing at odd angles and screaming for attention by thrusting themselves against her socks, drilling holes. She has long hairs on her legs, probably Mother Nature’s attempt to keep her warm in the absence of subcutaneous fat. Her buttocks are concave, her rib cage hangs over her lower body and we can’t resist counting, just to check that the numbers of pairs are as we have been led to believe. Her breasts have dropped back to pre-puberty but with dark hairs around her nipples. The beauty therapist has waxed away every strand from her underarms leaving red sore areas. Her complexion is acneed and the circles like twin black eyes threaten to paint themselves down her entire cheeks.

DAILY PROMPT: Finish the sentence, “I can tell you about…,” as many different ways as you can. 6 minutes

I can tell you about me, people, kids, dogs, Exeter, Devon, books, chocolate, England, therapy, plants, beads, jewellery, dogs, art, travel in India, Nigeria, love, talking, anger, tears, pain, death, birth, still birth, cheese, fabric, fruit, food, rain, water, fish, fairy tales, visual impairment, autism, music, maps, where places are, skin, hair, asthma, polymer clay, being vegetarian, taking photos, facebook.

Day the fourth

Well that last blog was a bit of a cop out because I wrote it ages ago. I felt I had to blog something but couldn’t think what and I guess I always wanted that piece to be ‘out there’ so why not here and now?

Yesterdays warble about the office window caused a bit of a stir when the returned retiree read it. Of course he had to comment, he told me to go forth, we had considerable fun at each others expense and so did a couple of our colleagues. It brightened up a very slow day at the end of a slow week when our systems have been down.

Borneo was my first attempt at travel writing despite a nice amount of travel in slightly unusual places. Like a million others, I would love to travel write seriously. I’m sure the world needs a middle aged adventure traveller, to do a telly series aimed at silver topped gappers. And think how beneficial it would be for tourism in Mali, if I inspired a huge increase in visits by well heeled seekers, to their stunning country. Mali is my ultimate dream destination. I first heard the name Timbuktu, Timbuctoo, Tombouctou as a small girl when it was short for the ends of the earth, about as remote from anything or any place as it was possible to go. Back then I had no concept of what it may be like,  but it sounded magical and still does. I need to go there, and to Djenne, Mopti and Bamako. I also need to go to the Ethiopian highlands and the Namib and strangely the £15k or so that would make that happen seems to be missing. So far, the tourist boards of those wonderful countries have failed to see how powerful an investment it would be to invite me!

Nests of Primates

No-one can prepare for rain forest. Really dense rain forest that is. I’d travelled in several African countries pottering through patches of moist jungle areas, but it was a world away from Borneo. Here I found myself eyeball to nature in its rawest sense, even in my forest lodge, where I encountered a poisonous green snake crossing the path to my hut. I was brought up by my grandparents, Devon country folk who belonged in Victorian times. They told me that snakes can ‘kill you dead’ and that there are poisonous adders on Woodbury Common. This put the fear of God in me, and it never left.

The next morning, I found a snake trying to suffocate a toad on my doorstep. I watched, holding tight to my stomach, telling myself that it couldn’t be poisonous it was a constrictor, as moment by moment it’s grip on it’s dinner got tighter. A friend arrived and following my tense stare, grabbed a stick and thrust it onto the wooden deck startling the snake. The toad gained its freedom in the brief pause and the affronted creature slithered away.

We set off for the day, but it was a while before I could put aside my fear of the return. If there was a snake on my porch then how do I know there are not more in some giant pit underneath the stilted hut? I already searched corners and crevices for bugs whenever I came into the room and obsessively sprayed insecticide to keep lobster -sized ants off the toilet seat. Is there an anti -snake spray?

Our lodge was a ten minute walk from Sepilok Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre, so rather than being herded on a tour bus with a tight timetable, we could come and go at leisure. I was thrilled by the close proximity of the feeding platform where bananas and coconut milk were served as a halfway house for Orangs that were being treated and rehabilitated. Opportunist Macaques arrived for a chance handout and shortly there were thrashings and glimpses of ginger hair. But what’s this?  Black blobs are appearing in my eyes. I felt like I was in some sort of roundabout lift crashing to the ground. I slunk from my prized pole position and squeezed through the crowd to reach a bench at the back. Unable to stay upright my head fell between my knees and time stopped. Eventually my body found some equilibrium. I raised my eyes to re-focus just as a tiny monkey peeked at me through the fence, the only primate encounter for me that morning; the Orangs had breakfasted and lumbered back into the forest.

Our up-country journey today was made smooth by the lucky find of Khaled, a taxi driver who had a boat and a boatman. He can also spot an orang-utan or proboscis monkey high in trees a hundred meters away. Khaled agreed to become ours for the length of our stay around the Kinabatangan River and Sepilok. The drive to the caves from the lodge began with promise, but the diverse greenery soon gave way to relentless palm oil plantations. I’ve learnt that the roads had only been constructed to transport the constant harvest of the red brown fruit, so desired as an ingredient on supermarket shelves in the western world. That same fruit is responsible for the destruction of the indigenous habitat of the orang-utans that I’d come to Borneo to see.

Gomantong caves are reputedly one of the highlights of any trip to Sabah and we emerged from our air conditioned taxi into the 100% humidity of the cave complex. Its only concession to tourism is a toilet block, sadly of the squatter type, and an interpretation area with photos of the limestone mounds. We walked a mile through forest that seemed like ten, as every stitch of fabric adhered to every inch of wet body.

I was aware that my own body odour rivalled and added to the array of smells, rather like a well fermented compost bin. As the forest gave way to a clearing in front of the cave we were advised to tuck trousers into socks before we climbed to the entrance. And now I’m here. And my body odour became that of a rose among a pile of rotting Durian. Wait . . . this is no romantic crystal cave, no Hall of the Mountain King. Fingal had well and truly disappeared, and in his place were a trillion cockroaches, some as long as your finger. Walking up a narrow board path that clung to the cave wall, I felt my stomach heave as the stench pervaded my body. It’s everywhere as if I have fallen into a maggoty dustbin.

I fought the urge to run back out but, spotting an older woman ahead of me inappropriately dressed in smart delicate sandals, I resolved that if she could do it so could I. The rickety boards were slimy, but both top and sides of the handrail were covered in a mix of guano and the date sized roaches. I struggled to maintain my balance with nothing to hold. Don’t cry Gilly, don’t make a fool of yourself, there are people further in the caves that are here every day. Khaled reached for my arm to stop me slipping into the mire. Instead of focussing on the five inch long queen roach that’s closer to my left ear than my pounding heart, I start to look around. The view up a hundred metres towards the cave roof was glorious with shafts of light illuminating what looked like a torn string vest with toy Star Wars figures tangled in it. Squinting, I realised that it’s the nest collectors scrambling on ladders made of rattan and rope that I could just about see in the distance.

Reaching the high point of the path I came across some of the workmen taking a break in their rest area. They were friendly and open to chat, seeming as interested in me as I was them.

Iqbal, middle aged and wiry, proudly introduced me to his son Abdul-Wajid. ‘His name mean Servant of the finder, he first term in cave and I last term also.’

The father has been working here since he was Wajid’s age and is now too old for such dangerous work. I resisted asking why he was sending his son to work here but he may have read my thoughts.

‘Is a tradition in our family and the best way to earn money, we are lucky to be small bodies.’ Wajid passed me a small stiff object and with a grin like a low slung crescent moon told me it’s his very first nest,

‘This is it? This is what the fuss is about?’ I find it hard to believe that people actually eat this and the Chinese believe it keeps them young.

I learnt that they will stay for ten weeks, hot bedding – to make sure work carries on for twenty four hours each day, and eating on a few shared pallets amongst the filth and squalor. A season’s salary is a mere £700, a lot of money for them but appalling when you know you can pay around £70 for just one bowl of the coagulated bird saliva, poo and feathers. After an hour in the cave I was lucky enough to be free to leave and couldn’t imagine sleeping there, much less eating anything at all in such a place.

Approaching sunset found us on the Kinabatangan. The river provides a corridor of pristine natural forest and there we were privileged to see a couple of really wild Orangs. These wild ones are a rich mahogany shade and I asked Khaled why.

‘Miss, you may see bright coloured ones in the rescue centre, but their fur becomes orange because the scientists choose their food. Like the people only few can survive, their food is also gone along with the forest’.

We agreed that tourists won’t come without the spectacular wildlife, but I questioned how ethical it is for us to take long haul flights anyway, can it be justified when it increases global warming?

I went to Borneo to see Attenborough’s brilliant floral forests with pristine waterfalls and clear azure skies. I wasn’t disappointed, but the reality was different; smiling orang-utans are there at present but for how long?  In Gomantong the bats and swiftlets do not evacuate delicate guano onto designated mounds; they pelt it everywhere like an army of mechanical muck spreaders. Bats are not cute velvety creatures with gothic webbed wings soaring in synchronised flight for our pleasure like a mass of Red Arrows in an air display; they flit so quickly they are hard to see.



Health and Safety in the Workplace

The highlight of the office day was a lunchtime pop across to the shop in the concourse (what sort of noncey name is that for a hospital entrance?) for some Maltesers, 187 calories the packet said. Except that I didn’t buy that size. I didn’t even buy just Maltesers. Was it my fault they had reduced the little tublets of mini eggs to half price? I felt it was only fair to liberate them. The Maltesers took about an hour to eat, slow I know but I had to stop for a drink midway as being slightly allergic to low cocoa chocolate my throat went into a dry spasm and I nearly choked. I still finished the packet though. You should have seen me downing water like I’d had to get it from a standpipe in a drought, desperately popping them while daring the phone to ring. Amazingly the mini eggs are unopened in my drawer. I going to have to stock check my grazing PDQ, I’ve calculated that by the time my first years contract is up in August I will have gained a stone if I continue at this rate. And, I’ve just been given a contract for a second year. Result? Yep, you can picture it. Ah the joys of returning to sedentary work.

Of course if I hadn’t been cold for a good part of the day I might not have eaten so much. Fact is, behind me sits a 66 year old retirement returnee who loves to hurl his window open with his walking stick to enjoy a gentle waft of fresh air while I have the almighty draught. We have been arguing about it all winter with me saying ‘If you’re hot why do you wear jumpers?’’To cover up my gut’ he replies. ‘So we can’t see the size of your belly if you wear a jumper?’ I answer. ‘Not as much, believe me.’ Okay, it’s now late May, I’m still cold until the sun finds its way round the side of the building, but I’ve shed the warmest of my work clothes, it’s what you do in spring right? Gradually yes? Not if you‘re a retirement returnee with a gut to hide. Nope, no way. What you do is wear exactly the same winter woollies all year round. And fling the window even wider. Especially first thing in the morning, before the sun finds its way round the building, when you’ve worked up the tiniest sweat walking one hundred yards from the bus stop. Can this get any worse? Oh yes . . . much worse. The blinking garden just below the OPEN window is beautifully planted with a haven of trees and shrubs, a paradise for birds and insects and a harmattans worth of pollen all heading towards me via the retirement returnees OPEN window. So in between choking on the chocolate I’ve been forced to comfort eat to keep warm I’m coughing, wheezing, sneezing and rubbing my eyes.

The Queen wore yellow

So Queenie went to Ireland this week. The Queen is a lady that is there for looking at. Day after day she travels the world so that we, the people can look at her. I’ve looked at her twice. Once as a young child I was taken to the bottom of the road to look at her as she passed. We were all there, hoards of council house kids, to wait for a huge, shiny car. I was bemused, I knew that Queens were very important people and we were supposed to curtsey. When the car drew closer I was vaguely aware that a yellow hat was there, and then, and then . . . I gathered my full, knee length skirt into wings, looked down,  and slowly bent my knee.  Rising upwards, still very slowly as practiced, I just spotted . . . the back of a yellow hat, as the car wheeled on down the road. At six years old, that was my look at Queenie.

The next forty years flew by in a whiz of not looking at Queenie, except on the telly where she often wore yellow. Daffodil, primrose, lemon, mustard – English of course, sunshine and acid. With never more than a linear foot of leg showing at the hem of her signature dress and coat, hands gloved in white, and a head and neck shaped cubic foot of person, showing between collar and hat.

The barriers were up outside the railway station. Queenie and her Royal Train would arrive at 11am so I could choose between leaving my office building across the road to ‘look at the Queen’, or, sit at my desk and work. Of course I couldn’t resist seeing if she matched the sunshine, so off I went to stand behind the barrier with the rest of the huge crowd of twenty. Now in those four spent decades we had both got older Queenie and I, and there was even less chance that she would recognise me and wave, without her specs. I squinted across the forecourt at a flash of yellow that scooted from door to car. She may be a lady for looking at, but I didn’t have my specs either.

Or not so lucid

as the case may be. That remains to be seen.Well, here I am in the mire having submitted the final assignment of an Open University module, A363 Advanced Creative Writing which means that I am half way to my degree and can claim the Diploma in Creative Writing. ‘What next?’ I posted as my Facebook status and a reply came from Rachel that I should keep on writing, join Friday Flash and start a blog. I have fiddled with the idea of a blog before, and lost patience with the process, but the wonderful WordPress.com is very user friendly. So this is my opportunity to write creatively instead of writing box tickingly Is that a word? It is now, I’m writing exactly what I want! And there’s one of the dreaded exclamation marks.

It really is what now for me, I seem to have scrawled three chapters of my first novel but have no idea where I’m going with it.  Of course it’s discipline that I lack, and it’s precisely that I need to improve.