Saturday, July 31, 2010

God Bless the Child

Mama may have
And Papa may have
But God bless the child
Who's got his own
Who's got his own.

Anyway, that's what Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog, Jr. wrote in 1941. But, of course, for the vast majority of people in the world today – and certainly the majority of those who live in Thailand – Mama doesn't have and Papa doesn't have, and their mama and papa didn't have, either.

And a whole layer of people at the top of society would be just as happy to make sure that the child doesn't have, too.  The haves and the have-nots are engaged in one of the world's most prevalent dynamics, and it's seen with special clarity in those countries where the gap between the two is glaringly visible.  The Rolls-Royces and the palaces over here; the water buffalo and the sagging shack, or the begging bowl, over there.

The invisible walls that keep the poor in their hovels are based on the immensely resilient fallacy that an economy is a zero-sum game -- that if a million peasants, to oversimplify, are given one dollar each, that represents a million dollars snatched from the grasp of the rich -- or, at least, a million the rich can't gather up and salt away in Switzerland.

Most economists would argue that keeping the majority of people in a society poor and ignorant actually limits how rich the rich can get, especially in a corrupt country.  And while there are lots of reasons why economics is called "the dismal science," it makes sense to believe that, as the poor prosper and pay more taxes and consume more goods, the profits and the benefits flow largely where they've always flowed -- into the pockets of the rich and powerful.  

It is very difficult to find photos of the Thai rich looking rich - they're too smart for that.  So we're using this photo of a middle-class couple in a fancy Bangkok restaurant, although they'd look plenty rich to the little Isaan girl above.  There are only two ways she's ever likely to be in a place like this: she's a waitress (not probable at all -- those jobs go to the daughters of people who know someone) or she becomes a prostitute and is taken there by a customer.

It's not fair to tar Thailand with the brush that should be reserved for such thuggish regimes as Myanmar and the worker's paradise of Kim Jong Il.  Literacy is nearly 100% in Thailand (higher than in the US) and free education is available to all, even if most poor kids drop out of school to support their families.  Every adult has a vote to cast (or sell), and new millionaires and professionals do emerge from the shanties from time to time.  Still, the walls are high and topped with broken glass.  And that, of course, is at the root of the problem that brought the Red Shirts to the streets of Bangkok.

When you look at the little girl above, or at the beautifully dignified older man to the right, still dressed for the village but washed up on the sidewalk of Bangkok with nothing but a bag and a bowl, you want to do something, anything, to make life easier and more fair for them.   But what?

The quick fix doesn't look any more likely when you realize that Billie Holliday based her song on a verse of the New Testament that was old when the book was assembled, probably in the 4th century, AD.  It's from Matthew, verses 25:29:

For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  

The rich get richer, in other words, and the poor get poorer.

Tim -- Sundays

Friday, July 30, 2010

Harrogate: part two

I only spent a day at the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival (half of which was spent trying to overcome the technical problems preventing me from posting to this site - which reminds me, thanks again Stan). The most fascinating panel wasn't the discussion of Agatha Christia, though that was easily the most popular. The queue stretched out the door and halfway across the car park, and it was confined to ticket only. Queue jumping was frowned upon - there were many ladies of a certain age in that line with elbows armed and ready to be used. One minute earlier they're telling you they love your book. Moments later it's a bony dig in the ribs to let you know the love is conditional.

No, the most entertaining panel was entitled Forensics: Murders, Mysteries and Microscopes. Bad title but good panel. It involved writers Mark Billingham and Ann Cleeves reading extracts of their work, to be appraised by three 'world-renowned' forensic experts. Each of these experts had worked on numerous murder cases, as well as advising on various TV shows. It worked well because the experts were extremely entertaining, as well as illuminating. A couple of them showed slides of various real life crime scenes, some of which were pretty gory. At one, a burned body, there was a shudder of revulsion across the hall. A gleam appeared in the expert's eyes. 'Ha,' he seemed to be thinking, 'you lot read about this stuff, and you write about it, but I have to deal with the reality daily.' And he's right. We really shouldn't be so lily-livered.

Another expert pulled a lady from the crowd, as part of his way of illustrating the idea of 'every contact leaves a trace.' 'If I forced you to have oral sex,' he said, 'and then killed you...' He then grabbed the woman by the hair. 'I would have to grab hold here to force you to do it.' A few knitting needles went down at the front. A rather ample gentleman beside me went redder in the face than was necessary. The expert continued: the scrunchie in her hair would retain DNA evidence for years afterwards, he added, long after the contents of the mouth had perished. The lady sat down. Presumably thinking something like that might not have happened at the Agatha Christie panel, or the discussion of 'cosies' earlier on (Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Forced Oral Sex - there you go M.C Beaton - payment to the usual address.)

Billingham and Cleeves read out passages from their books for scrutiny. That was interesting in itself. Billingham, an ex-stand up comic, read his stuff with drama and panache - it sounded superb. Cleeves, an excellent writer, was understandably more stilted in comparison, and her stuff had less impact. I'm not sure that would be the same on the page. I have given one reading of my work and it was an uncomfortable experience. I couldn't find the right voice, my emphasis was all wrong. I suppose it's something you improve at with experience. But those with a thespian bent, like Mark Billingham, will always have an advantage.

Despite his passage sounding terrific, it came off far worse with the experts than Cleeves. It involved a man being burned alive in some kind of professional hit. The expert who analysed the extract said it would be more than easy to find the killers given the amount of evidence they left at the scene. He also dismissed the use of petrol as the choice of immolate in such cases. Paraffin is better, apparently. We got to see why. He showed a video of a fire officer dousing a boat with petrol, being diverted for a few seconds, and then being blown metres into the air when he lit the fuse. Apparently petrol evaporates quickly into the air. The expert said he had come across countless shopkeepers who had tried to burn down their shop in some kind of insurance scam and found themselves blown 30 feet into the air after soaking it in petrol, which slightly defeated the object.

Billingham took it in good heart. He didn't seem that bothered with his lack of veracity. And why should he? The extract was well written and gripping, for my money more important than the fact it did not stand up to forensic scrutiny. Few layman readers will have the knowledge to pick such holes. Though I bet he's a bit more careful in his research next time. As will I.


Dan - Friday

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Writing a ghost story is different from writing a crime novel. Other rules apply and although there is more freedom where reality is concerned there is less in other aspects such as conventional investigating. The plot takes second place for the bulk of the novel as atmosphere must be in first place to activate the goose bumps.

A lot of the ghost or horror stories in traditional Icelandic folklore are creatures. They are not very frightening to modern day man although they must have evoked terror in people a long time ago. Many of these monsters lived in lakes or the sea, which is understandable as such waters were such a huge part of life in Iceland and still are.

In 1874 an animal called Katanesdýrið – the Katanes animal – was seen lurking around a lake in Hvalfjörður on the west coast of Iceland. The animal was described as the size of a dog and was noted to disappear into the lake or appear out of it. Not many took these stories seriously as the only people who reported seeing the animal were teenagers and no drawing based on these original descriptions exist. A year later grown-ups began to catch sight of the monster which had used the winter to grow a bit and had reached the proportions of a calf. No sightings occurred during the following winter but lo and behold, in the summer of 1876 a good number took pale and the monster and yet again grown. It was now the size of a bull, longer and equipped with a tail similar as one sees on dinosaurs. The monster-s body was white, the head reddish, each short foot had six powerful claws, the strong jaws had four large and sharp fangs and funnily enough it had drooping ears like those on a beagle. The animal had no fur or scales.

Being aquatic the Katanes animal was a good swimmer, moving extremely quickly under the lakes waters. It was not as swift on land but enough to catch unsuspecting sheep and eat them. It never approached cattle or horses but was seen looking at men and licking its chops, sometimes trying to catch them - never successfully . It was also noticed becoming more and more malevolent and ferocious. Understandably people began to worry, a furless monster with killer claws, growing larger by the minute is not something you appreciate lounging around your neighborhood. Shepherds refused to herd sheep unless provided a horse and during bright daylight and it was feared that the main road to the north would shut down as it passed the Katanes lake. Travelers no longer took the road unless in armed groups as they feared attack by the monster. The worst case scenario was that the whole of Katanes would be deserted and even neighboring farms and towns.

The locals became increasingly upset and a delegation was sent to Reykjavík to request a grant from the then governor of Iceland to pay for the cost of ridding the countryside of the monster. The governor (Danish) was obviously a very smart man because he said that they would get their very substantial grant when they brought him the head and the tail of the monster, or if possible the whole monster, alive. The delegation return back home, estatic with this proposal. They set about finding a good marksman, they actually sought the best marksman available in the county and offered an exceptional salary for these services. and once convinced they had their man they set about arranging a constant watch around the lake. The watchmen were to immediately notify the awaiting sharpshooter if they saw the beast appear from the lake.

News of this got out and people flocked from all over to the area to witness the capture of the infamous Katanes animal. Some of the spectators came armed with guns, knifes, clubs or other weapons that could be used in case they met the monster face to face. Now while the crowd and the sharpshooter were at Katanes lake the monster never appeared. There was one incident where two men were attacked on a road in the middle of the night but they were unable to give an account of what happened as it was too dark for them to see their attacker, even too dark for one man to see the other. It was believed this had to be the work of the Katanes animal. One of the men looked as if he had been rolled around in the mud while the other was in a bad way, had a broken jaw and a couple of his teeth knocked out. They had approached the same area from separate directions, i.e. they had not been walking together when they were ambushed at the point on the road where they met. OK – are you are thinking what I am thinking? Probably.

Soon after the locals were not able to afford to keep the sharpshooter on duty and he went back home, a lot richer than when he arrived. The onlookers also left and only the locals remained, now a lot more worried as it was apparent that the monster was not only ferocious but also smart. It had realized the danger posed by the sharpshooter and the crowd and had kept a low profile. To make things worse the sightings began again.

Now a decision was made to empty the lake by digging a huge ditch to the sea as catching or killing the animal on dry land was much easier than underwater. This plan did not work. The lake is still there, no less deep than in 1876.

Luckily enough the monster simply disappeared on its own. The same locals that were so adapt at negotiating and planning set forth two theories as to what happened to it. One was that the animal was actually sea monster and that had accessed the lake through an underwater tunnel through which it had made its exit. The other theory was also tunnel based, but this tunnel lead to a lake in the neighboring county. This lake, Skorradalsvatn, was long known for the monster living within it. Friends of ours have a summer cottage by this lake which they keep urging us to visit. They have never mentioned seeing a monster there but then again, they would probably steer away from the subject until we are there.

There will be no Katanes monster in my ghost story. It would just mess up the athmosphere.

Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Paris Cinemas

The French love films and have a rich tradition in the cinema. The Melies brothers even invented it, using the techniques from daguertypes, and made the first film near Place de la Republique. But the directors Chabrol Truffaut,Goddard and Audiard confess they saw their 'first' film and fell in love with cinema at as young teenagers at some of these little theatres.

In the Latin Quarter, the students still throng to the movie theatres on rue Champollion in the 5e. There are 3 on this block long street:
Le Champo Starting its local cinema career with films from the likes of Carné, Pagnol, Becker or Tati, Le Champo(-llion) become the favourite of French film lovers. The old cinema has now extended its screenings to more European tastes and also holds Film Nights, where viewers can watch three films and then enjoy breakfast afterwards,
and the Studio Galande, rue Galande.Showing low-budget films in their original versions, Studio Galande is also Parisian home of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Every weekend fans gather here to celebrate, in true RHPS style, the glorious decadence of the film. There are many different screenings every day.

La pagode 57 bis rue de Babylone 7th Certainly one of the original monuments to see in Paris, La Pagode was erected at the beginning of the century by the manager of the department store Bon March for his wife on the land next to their house, a real pagoda in a Japanese style used as a ballroom. But they quickly divorced and the pagoda was hired for events

It turned to a 400 seat movie house in the 1930's. A projection booth was built at the rear side and beautiful glass windows were darkened by simple wood panels and additional building constructed on a part of the garden was used as the lobby.

Le Brady 39 Blvd de Strasbourg 10thWhen Le Brady's doors opened in 1956 it specialised in horror, vampire and other monster films, which it continued to show for almost 40 years. It was only in the mid-nineties that the Brady moved on to its current specialisation - old films in their original versions.
Don't miss a trip to the Grand Rex in the 2e. It's an unbelievable movie palace complete with leather armchairs.

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Uirapuru

The Guarani people of the Amazon tell of a handsome young warrior, whose love was sought by all the maidens of his tribe.
And who was treacherously murdered by a rival for their affections.
When they went to prepare his body for burial, they found it gone.
He’d been transformed into a bird that filled the forest with song, but disappeared when approached.
The uirapuru.
They say that when the uirapuru sings, the sound of its notes is so beautiful that all the other birds of the forest stop singing - and listen.
Only in part.
Because the uirapuru really does exist.
But is seldom seen, and rarely heard.
It's a shy creature with coloring that blends in with that of the forest.
And it sings only at dawn, and at sunset, and for little more than two weeks in any given year.
Those two weeks are the period in which the bird is building his nest.
He’s singing out of love, hoping to attract a mate.
All Brazilians know about the uirapuru...
...but few have been fortunate enough to hear its voice in nature.
The people who live in the Amazon jungle are constantly on the lookout for uirapuru feathers on the forest floor.
The possession of one is thought to bring good luck to both men and women.
But especially to women.
Who are said to use them to capture the passion of their loved ones – forever.
Click here to listen the song of the uirapuru:

Leighton - Monday

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Responsible to Whom?

Ever since the Romantic age, artists have been told that everything should be subordinate to the work.  Hate your mother?  Use it, it's material.  A lifetime of simmering resentment?  Express it, it'll tow your story along.  Present your friends, thinly disguised, as idiots?  Well, there's the truth of daily life on the one hand and the Truth of Art on the other.  Get it all out there.  Let the Work arise triumphant from the Wreckage.

Despite the snarky tone of the paragraph above, I more or less agree with the Romantic premise.  That puts me in a delicate position because I generally write about people who are much worse off than I, people who can't defend themselves.  The poor and oppressed of Thailand, while they'll probably never read a word I write, deserve to be presented carefully and with some conscience.

I wrote about the abandonment of street children in three books and the methodical exploitation of the poor by the rich in one, Breathing Water (although it's sort of background music for all the books).  In the new one, The Queen of Patpong, the subject – wrapped inside a thriller – is the Thai sex industry and what it does to the women who enter it, either through coercion or plain old poverty.  These women have very few choices in life, and while their stories are temptingly dense with drama, the last thing they need is to be exploited literarily as well as physically and emotionally.

So.  In writing the new book, I found myself being much more than ordinarily sensitive to its fairness, for want of a better word, toward its characters.  But that didn't mean I could romanticize them or present them as a chorus of cherubim: there are bar workers who cheat, steal, abuse drugs, assault their co-workers, abandon their families, even exploit their children by offering them as sexual merchandise.  My goal, to the extent that I had a coherent goal, was to present them as fully as possible, as individuals, most of whom were doing the best they could with the bad hand they'd been dealt.

And every time I thought it was working, a quotation from David Sedaris would come to mind:  Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it's just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.  To me, that meant that I had to be doubly sure that my intention was clear and to use that intention as a sort of measuring stick to try to gauge the reaction readers might have to the story -- to make sure (for example) that if they wanted to read it for titillation, they were going to have to work pretty hard to get there.

It seems to me that a lot of mystery and thriller writers have to deal with this issue, especially since we've long emerged from the so-called Golden Age of British (and faux-British) upper-crust mysteries in which, as Raymond Chandler put it, the suspects sit sipping Singapore slings and sneering at each other while the detective crawls over the carpet with a magnifying glass.  Thrillers and mysteries these days often explore the lives of those on whom the rest of society steps.  I know, for example, that Leighton's Brazil and Michael and Stanley's South Africa have institutionalized inequality to a degree that at least equals Thailand.

So I'm asking everyone, how do you work with this material?  Is there any special responsibility?  If so, how do you see it?  And to readers, what (if anything) do you think our responsibility should be?

I'd love to hear from some of you.

Guest of the Week - Caro Ramsay

Please meet Caro, a real Glaswegian lass, who's guest posting today. We met last year at Bristol CrimeFest on a panel.
After she told me she'd consulted on the long running Scottish TV police procedural Taggart, one of my favorites, was a working osteopath and devoured crime novels I knew we had a lot in common.
She's written three police procedurals set in Glasgow: Absolution, Singing to the Dead and

 Dark Water, her latest, which takes us to the gritty side of Glasgow.

Hi All. Cara and Stanley were chatting to me about this fab blog site and I thought I might lend a Scottish perspective on all things of a crime novel nature
. and then I read Dan Waddells blog re sport that contained the phrase truculent Scot‘… and I thought.. Well theres a tautology if ever there was one!
We are all preparing for the Harrogate Crime Festival and as usual I'm not offered the panels on counter pointing metaphors and the inverse narrative. I get the panels about sex, violence, swearing and drugs. The Harrogate panel this year is A Scotsman, Englishman, Irishman and a Welshman walk into a pub and write a crime novel! Discuss! Apart for being a basis for lots of rampant nationalism I.e. the other three berating the English guy and not mentioning the football too often. Just in case it all kicks off, there is an American in charge who will be forced to remain neutral… as long as he is on my side.
I think the serious point of the panel is - we are four nations so close geographically, do we really dislike each other? Do we play to the stereotypes of our respective countries? Do we struggle for our identity? Does our sheer nationalism make us write differently? Is our crime fiction different? And why?
My views? Its all to do with the landscape. Basically, England is sunny and shiny with lots of nice grass. The bit at the bottom of the country, to the left is Wales low clouds, close harmony singing, brooding dark passion, Tom Jones, Catherine Zeta Jones, you can see the Breton influence in them. Further to the left across the water is Ireland. Where the citizens are passionate and just a bit crazy in a lyrical, charismatic (drunk) kind of way.
Scottish history, according to some, says that one day a few Irish folk were standing at the north end of their country and looked across the sea to a land that was colder, wetter and windier. They looked at the Rottweiller mountains, the huge waves and thistles that stood higher than their trousers and they thought
Lets go and live there! 
Follow that by a few Nordic invasions and so the Scots were born.
I like to think that we have deep in our DNA, the lyricism (and drinking) of the Irish with the great story telling tradition (and drinking) of the Scandinavians
And if you look at Scottish fiction, from Robert Louis Stevenson to John Buchan and the present day and whathisname- oh yeah that Rankin bloke.
Dark, bleak, chilling, not exactly action packed but deep and brooding, like the landscape. 
We dont do cosy (apart from the two sisters in Edinburgh but they have a nice front room, posh china and they wear cashmere cardis so are nearly English). Cosy as a genre belongs to the south of England, (re Agatha). The further north we go, things get gritty, (re McDermid), Glasgow (me), Aberdeen (Stuart McBride, McBeard to his fans). Keep going north you end up with Yrsa!
There was an interesting thing on the TV last night
One of the most distressful episodes in Scottish history was the battle of Culloden in 1745... The English came up and brutally slaughtered the Scottish clans that stood against them in honor and defense of their homeland. After the battle the English soldiers murdered, raped and burned their enemy, the tartan was banned, the bagpipes were banned, the language was banned, the clan system was banned the identity of the Scottish nation was broken in that one afternoon.
Or so we get taught at school
its not actually true, it was much more complicated than that - Scot against Scot, highlander against lowlander, clan against clan, the French were there in the mix but it was a turning pointBut the interesting thing is that twenty years later Glasgow and Edinburgh had become known as cradles of genius the destruction of the clan system brought about a huge intellectual advance on what was previously a disparate nation of clan rivalry. All that passion still has to be directed somewhere, in our music and our writing and it has never stopped.
Alliteratively, the view out the window of my turret where my writing room is, I
m looking across the top of the bluebell wood. Its early July, the rain is being caught by the wind and hitting the window horizontally, dark purple clouds are blustering across the sky and senior dog, the husky, is tucked under the radiator and refusing to move.
So the idea of sitting here, in the warm turret and not going out until Ive killed off a few more folk in the next book is very appealing indeed.
Maybe thats why so many of us do it!!! 

Cara for Caro - Saturday

Friday, July 23, 2010


Dan has been having problems accessing Murder is Everywhere, so he asked me to post his blog.  He apologizes about the lack of photos, but he's been having problems with them too.  (Probably too much Theakston!) - Stan

I’m currently lounging around at the Old Peculier crime writing
festival in Harrogate (that’s not a typo by the way – Old Peculier is
a beer made by the sponsors Theakston. A very strong beer. The sort
that makes you walk and talk very silly). Harrogate is the most
prestigious event of its type in the UK, which is not the same as
being the most fun. Crimefest wins that contest, but then it’s an
entirely different festival. Harrogate is invitational, which gives it
a rather aloof, undemocratic air, unlike the
one-for-all-for-one-oh-go-on-I’ll-have-another atmosphere of Bristol.

It’s still a good laugh, however. This year’s line-up is very starry:
Ian Rankin (he’s having a cappuccino over there, so much for Tartan
noir…), Jeffery Deaver, Jeff Lindsay, Karin Slaughter, Val McDermid
(mineral water behind me) and Joanne Harris are all appearing. Rather
than there being a number of panels running concurrently for punters
to attend, there is only one event at a time, and as a consequence the
audiences can be huge. Last year I was invited to appear on the New
Blood panel, and there must have been 500 or 600 people in the
audience, which was pretty daunting. I was almost tempted to break
open my complimentary bottle of Old Peculier for some Dutch courage
while we waited to go on stage, though sanity prevailed. We managed to
muddle through.

I’m not invited this year (lost in the mail, I reckon) so I’m here as
a fan rather than writer. I’m particularly interested by the 5pm panel
today, celebrating the life of Agatha Christie. She may not be
fashionable, and some of her books may not have dated particularly
well, but I’m very fond of a spot of Agatha. I remember reading a fair
bit of Poirot as a young teenager, and while I date the beginning of
my love of crime fiction to reading Emil and the Detectives as a
pre-teen, my teenage dalliance with Christie helped deepen the affair.

She has an indelible link to Harrogate. It was here, in this sedate,
spa town in North Yorkshire that she fled in 1926. She was then
probably the most famous person in England. Her disappearance was
national news. It was feared that she had committed suicide, the
police launched a manhunt that lasted eleven days, Arthur Conan Doyle,
convinced she was dead, took one of her gloves to a medium to see if
she could be located in the afterlife. She was finally spotted by a
banjo player at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel, where she had booked in
under the name Mrs Teresa Neele

Last year I stayed at the Swan (now the Old Swan, and it makes much of
its part in the Christie disappearance). The rooms are so small you
have to go outside to change your mind but tucked away, at the end of
a leafy side street, you could see why she chose it as the place to
escape from the pressures of her fame. Personally, I couldn’t help
but marvel at her ability to remain incognito for so long. These days,
with GPRS, 24 hour rolling news, cashpoint machines, credit cards, it
would be an achievement for a notable figure to disappear for 11

Anyway, must go. Knitting Needles at Dawn is about to start...(which
reminds me of the time at a talk where an old lady told me about a
woman she knew who stabbed her abusive husband of 36 years to death
with a knitting needle. Apparently when the police arrived – she had
called them – she asked for a few more minutes to finish a jumper for
her granddaughter.)


Dan - Friday

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Cape Floral Kingdom

A floral kingdom is an area of the planet where plant species have evolved in different ways, due to geographic or climatic differences. There are six floral kingdoms on the planet: the Holarctic or Boreal, which covers 42% of the earth’s land surface, including North America, Europe, Asia north of the Himalayas, and the Arctic; the Paleotropical, including all but a sliver of Africa, the Middle East, India, and Asia south of the Himalayas (35%); the Neotropical which covers all of South America, except the tip (14%); the Australian, which includes only Australia (8%); the Holantarctic, which comprises the tip of South America and the Antarctic (1%); and the Cape or Capensis at the southern tip of Africa, comprising a mere 0.04% of the earth’s land area.

I happen to live in the Cape Floral Kingdom. And what a pleasure it is.

First some stats: eight protected areas within the Cape Floral Kingdom (totaling about 550,000 hectares or 1.2 million acres) are designated as a World Heritage Site. Table Mountain National Park, in the middle of Cape Town, is only 22,000 hectares (about 50,000 acres), and contains more plant species than the British Isles. The kingdom has just under 10,000 vascular plant species, of which 70% are endemic (occur nowhere else). In terms of fauna, the area boasts 560 vertebrate species, including 142 reptile species of which 27 are endemic.

But it is not the stats that I like. I LOVE the plants and how they look.

In South Africa we use the word fynbos (or fine bush) as the generic name for all the plants in the kingdom. Virtually all the woody species are hard and tough with small leaves. There are also about 330 species of restios, which are grass like. The plants have adapted to flourish in the poor soil, high winds, winter rainfall, and frequent fires.

Perhaps the most famous of the plants from the area are proteas, strelitzia (bird of paradise), arum lilies, gladioli, and daisies. But I’m sure you’d rather see these flowers rather than read about them. So here goes.

Brown sugarbush
Yellow pin cushion

King protea

King protea close up

Red pin cushion

Red sugarbush


Mandela's strelitzia

Arum lily

Namaqua daisies

Daisies as far as the eye can see




Cape sugarbird
 All these plants, of course, attract a variety of birds, including sugarbirds and sunbirds. I wake up every morning to the noisy chatter of sugarbirds discussing the quality of nectar in the various proteas, aloes, and tickberry flowers in my garden. The sunbirds are less noisy, but often more active. Their iridescent feathers are often quite startling as they catch the sunlight.

Lesser double-collared sunbird

Fynbos is a tourist attraction in its own right, and many people visit South Africa to explore the Western Cape’s flowers. With so many species, there are always plants in bloom, summer or winter. Right now, in my garden, I have seven varieties of proteas in bloom, as well as aloes, ericas, and yellow tickberry bushes.

No wonder we call this area Paradise.

Stan - Thursday