We never asked for crockery, picture frames or pots and pans when we got married in April, we asked our guests, with the help of the fantastic Audley Travel, to create our perfect honeymoon. This started with a trip to the Selous Game Reserve in Tanzania.. a visit that will live with us for the rest of our lives.
After boarding three planes of differing sizes via Birmingham, Dubai and Dar es Salaam, the final leg of the journey saw us climb aboard a 4 seater machine that would embark on the 45 minute flight into the bush. The "it may be a bit bumpy on the way up" statement from the wannabe Maverick (or Goose) pilot was a huge understatement, and for someone who has never suffered from any form of travel sickness, I couldn't wait to get off.
As we touched down at the second attempt we were greeted by giraffe lining the airstrip that if we didn't know better you may think they are placed there to start everyone's safari off in style! The drive from airstrip to camp was around an hour but this was no ordinary airport transfer. After seeing lots more giraffe, the first of many impala, zebra and a glorious sunset we eventually reached our based for the next five days - The Lake Manze Camp. Located on the edge of the aforementioned lake this was a camp like no other.
We were introduced to Shaun and Milly, our torchlight wielding camp hosts and were immediately told of the actual dangers and the animals that frequently pay a visit to the camp. "Look and Listen" and never walk anywhere without the Maasai - the spear and wooden mallet brandishing camp guards. These guys are amazing. They literally just appear when you wish to go somewhere like the 100 yards to our tent and back again!
The tents were wonderfully basic. A concerned Jess from Audley had worryingly, and continually, warned us that it "is very rustic. It's in no way glamping or luxury" and would defend it by saying "but you are in the middle of it all". What Jess didn't realise is that no electricity and wifi were a couple of things we were looking forward to most. The flushing toilet and shower, albeit out in the open at the back of the tent, were all we needed. We reached tent number 3 where two lanterns were alight on our verander that looked out towards the lake. This was a room with a view!
We got changed, zipped up our tent as a Maasai appeared, and wandered back to camp where we decided, over a bottle of Tusca and a G&T what we wished to do the next day. We opted for a morning drive and lake safari. This, we thought, would give us the best idea of what to expect during the rest of the week. Dinner was then served on a long table and we were ushered to one end. We didn't realise until the penultimate night that there was a pecking order at meal times - by day 4 were sat right next to Milly and Shaun - We had earned our safari stripes!
After waking at 5.30am on day one to the hippo alarm clock I looked out towards the lake waiting for the sun to appear. The sound of the animals coming to life on a new day was magical. We were escorted to breakfast and saw the camp in daylight for the first time. It was surrounded by palm trees and looked as though it was built using only material within 100 meters. There were no walls which gave you a 360° panoramic view out towards the lake and into the bush.
Our Landrover defender arrived and we met our guide - Haroun, and driver - Emmanuel. We hopped in and were off into the bush. Shaun had informed us that there had been a lion sighting but it was still down to luck as to whether we got to see one or not. We saw many impala and baboon withing 30 meters of the camp and as we ventured deeper there were lots of giraffe, wildebeest and incredible looking birds. It was around an hour in when our driver thought he had spotted a lion stalking two wildebeest heading for a drink. He wasn't wrong and we waited to see if there would be a hunt. After a few minutes the lion started calling in the direction of a tree where two cubs, a two year old male and an older female were sat. We later learnt that this was Grandma, grandchildren and mother. We drove up surprising close and they were not phased at all. They were actually so calm that it looked like you could hop out and give them a stroke.. "make your last wish before you do" Haroun advised!
We sat with the lions for a good 20 minutes and followed them as they went to find mum who had finished scaring wildebeest. We watched them for around and hour. I could have sat there all day. We drove a little further and it wasn't long before we discovered another pride with two younger cubs who were equally as placid and rather just fancied a sleep in the shade than being bothered by some English tourists! This was a our first morning and we were being spoilt.
On making our way back to camp for lunch there were reports spreading of a leopard sighting and there like a flash it flew by and headed for some thicker undergrowth. We searched for a while but to no avail. Little did we know that this was the start of the search for the very elusive big cat! Lunch was served as we all chatted about the morning and how each of us had very different experiences and we waited until it was time to visit the lake.
After a short drive we reached the banks of Lake Manze and were introduced to Pascal our guide and potential lifeguard. He would drive the boat towards the edges where we'd come face to face with a crocodiles until they slid gracefully into the water. We caught our first sight of hippos and headed closer. Their raucous calling made us realise that when we heard them from our tent that they were probably about 500 meters away and not just outside the door like we first thought! They were bloody massive and had what looked like the easiest life going. Wake up. Eat Grass. Go to the Water. Stay there until dark. Eat more grass. This was a lifestyle that could last for 40 years!
The light was fading and the sky was turning slighty fiery but nothing prepared us for the natural beauty that was just about to occur. Within minutes there was the most incredible sunset you could ever imagine and images that you never really believed existed!
It was truly spectacular but never really had time to take it all in as darkness fell and we were soon back in camp for dinner and deciding what we wanted to do the following day.. we choose a full day safari drive with lunch in the bush as we wanted to see more lion and anything else the bush had to offer. The day started by seeing an elephant wander past the lake outside our tent. As we reached breakfast, the elephant and five friends had reached the camp. They were about 20 yards away from where we were having breakfast and stopped there for at least half an hour eating fruit from the trees before bashing there way on further along the edge of the lake. This was very special.
The full day safari drive is far more relaxed although you are on high alert all day. You get to study the habits of the animals a lot more and although we didn't see lion there was an abundance of wildebeest, buffulo, waterbuck, warthog, kudu, monkeys, baboon, giraffe and of course impala, aptly nicknamed Macdonalds - Fast food! We were also informed that although Selous didn't have the "big 5" (as there were no rhino) it did have the "ugly 5" which included the Marabou stork, hyena and the aforementioned warthog, baboon and wildebeest!
We drove for hours until our Landrover, that had reached 260,000 miles on the clock, went bang. This wasn't an issue as they sent out another straight away while we enjoyed a delicious lunch in the middle of nowhere after which we went on a hunt for leopard. I think we checked every tree in Selous that had the right sort of canopy and every shaded gully in the ground but there was no sign and we eventually headed back "home". On the walk back to our tent we were stopped in our tracks as elephant were gathering near our verander. After a couple of spear on mallet taps from the Maasai, he soon meandered off into the bush. A wonderful fish dinner was served and we were gradually creeping up the table!
After another morning drive without a lion spotting it proved how fortunate we were to see two prides on our very first morning. We discovered a lone elephant and after getting a little closer we noticed that there were a few more behind. We followed them for a few minutes and switched off the engine to watch them pass. This is where an overprotective group member got a bit shirty flapping his ears, kicking some dirt and raising his voice. He was close. Like 4 feet away from the Landrover close. A rev of the engine is enough for them to keep their distance but the new Landy had either a dodgy starter motor or battery - whichever it was, it didn't start! The driver banged the side of the vehicle and the elephant eventually retreated! Ourselves and the guide loved it. Emmanuel wasn't so keen!
We took another relaxing trip on the lake that afternoon and the hippo were more vocal with one coming a little too close for comfort to our boat that was no bigger than a rowing boat. "No problem" said a smiling Pascal. I presumed he had sensed our fear as those were not the words I was using! We spotted a lone buffalo and watched him munch the foliage for a while without a care in the world - us and him!
That evening we headed back to the tent to prepare for dinner. After reaching camp and organising the next (and our last) morning activities we were told to pack up our things. What had we done wrong? Well actually nothing.. Milly and Shaun had prepared a champagne meal for us on our verander for our final evening. It was a wonderful gesture and again the food was truly delicious. It felt as if we had won a trial on I'm A Celebrity and a perfect way to spend our last night.
The following morning we said our goodbyes. We had only known the place for 5 days but we were very sad to be leaving. It was genuinely a home from home and Milly and Shaun were the most perfect hosts.
Again the transfer to the airport was like no other. We left camp at 8am to catch our 12.50. En-route we saw one of the prides of lion that we had seen on day one and then a couple of hyena enjoying a wildebeest breakfast under the watchful eye of a menacing wake of vultures. It all seemed so natural. There is a food chain that you respect and appreciate. It's the way it is and the way it has to be.
We reached the airstrip hoping for a better flight out. This was the greatest experience that we had ever had and we didn't want to leave. But with an order to put your belts on by the pilot we were wobbling around in the air and within minutes the bush disappeared out of sight and we were heading back to Dar es Salaam.
Lets get something straight - I don't actually hate football as a game, I just detest the culture that surrounds it. So let me begin.
As a young lad growing up in the Cotswolds in the late eighties/early nineties there was only one team to support - Manchester United. This was purely because it was my step-fathers choice of team and a few years before they actually started winning anything. We even both owned a matching a shell suit!
I remember Lee Martin scoring the winner in the 1990 cup final and England losing on penalties the following summer in the World Cup. I remember seeing Gazza and Bobby Robson shed a tear like it was yesterday. Like most people who remember the tournament I still get flashbacks of Roger Milla and Schillaci every time I hear Nessun Dorma. It's a little bit like looking back at an old relationship with rose tinted specs thinking players cared more and football was pure but in truth, hooligans were never far away. This was only 5 years after the Heysel disaster which, at the time, I was too young to remember.
So does football receive an unfair reputation. I see lots of people comparing football to rugby and rightly so although rugby is by in no way perfect. It just has football to make it look better all the time! Of course all football fans are not moronic vandals like not all rugby fans are saints, but there is a big brush and everyone gets tarred with it. RESPECT - In rugby the players call the referee "sir".. In football the players swear at them and even push them. The crowd call him a wa*%ker frequently throughout the 90 minutes. FANS - The fans in rugby all sit together and have fun together. An environment in which the whole family can enjoy. If this was the case in football there would be a fight every match. Anyone who wishes to argue this case please ask yourselves why this doesn't happen. Football fans (again not all of them) seem angry. All their chants and things they shout out are like a lot of frustration coming out. It also slightly worries me that 50 year old men are singing songs about teenage boys and wearing their names on their back! PLAYERS - Deception seems to be the norm in football. Feigning a foul or an injury to gain advantage of some sorts is accepted. A dive or pretending to be hurt to get a fellow professional sent off is just an everyday occurrence. Harry Kane got congratulated for not rolling around in agony when being kunf-fu chopped in a friendly against Portugal. To be able to pick out a single case is quite shocking. If in rugby players were rolling around in pretense each time they got a knock a game would last over 3 hours! Yes there are fights in rugby. Real fights. Not some shirt pulling, shoving and spitting. The only footballer (in my lifetime) I believed would have actually gone through with a threat was Roy Keane - all the others pretending to fight is like watching wrestling. Sadly football players are put on a pedestal. It's as if they're unattainable and their lives are what every male in the country once dreamed of. They are, whether we like it or loathe it, roles models of a high proportion of young children. We have generation after generation thinking this is normal behavior.
Of course the media are out to report any kind of trouble in France but if there wasn't any trouble they wouldn't have anything to report. The only way to stop it happening is to stop nations such as Russia, England and any others whose so called fans cause trouble competing in these tournaments. Don't let them try an qualify for the next world cup. Something that the sponsors would never let happen but the authorities really should push for. I ended up watching the game last night not caring if the team actually won, lost or drew as the occasion had already been marred by the events in the days leading up to it. How sad is that for a sport loving English man? Whatever the FA are doing to crack down on hooliganism is obviously not working. It is out of control and an embarrassment to our country.
It was the first Friday in June which can only mean one thing if you are a resident in the North Cotswolds - The Dover's Olimpick Games in Chipping Campden.
This tradition has been hailing back to 1612 (probably) and was first organised by Norfolk lawyer Robert Dover. He was born (probably) between 1575 and 1582 and was nephew of Baptist Hicks, a great benefactor of Chipping Campden. These hard facts are taken from www.olimpickgames.co.uk!
We made our way up to Dover's Hill (a natural amphitheatre situated about a mile north of the town) by shuttle bus from the town center along with our Australian friends who were here to see "real England". The journey, that lasted a mere 3 minutes was still, in its own way, a sign of things to come as fellow "shuttlers" started heckling the volunteers working on the gates. They were may just warming up for things to come! We joined the queue (in very English style) and were checked for any alcohol and again in true English style managed to smuggle in a couple of bottles of red wine, and two wine glasses that had been wrapped in flower paper in Tesco's just a minutes earlier!
We took our seats on the hill. The "team olimpicks" had already started - think Total Wipeout meets It's A Knockout and add a lot of Cotswolds and you will pretty much have an idea of what challenges were ahead for the competitors. A wheelbarrow relay race followed by the highlight and climax which was a fairy liquid strewn tarpaulin sheet placed in the middle where teams had to carry water in hole ridden buckets across which caused the expected amount of chaos! Sadly (for them) there was a tie so the contest was decided by a space-hopper race across the same sheet of tarpaulin and back. What else would you do to decide such a contest?
The "arena" was cleared to make way for the eagerly awaited, and most well known event of the evening, Shin-Kicking. If you have never seen or heard of shin-kicking the rules are pretty simple. Firstly you stuff as much straw up (or down) your trousers that is achievable. You then grab your opponent by the collar and wait for the stickler (a referee who is holding a stick. Surely this must mean that rugby referees should be referred to as "whistlers"?) to tell you to start try and then you boot your opponent as hard as you can in the shins until they fall to the floor in a 'best out of 3' contest. The rounds leading up to the final were quite subdued yet they did include a lad who looked like he had walked into the ring by accident where one kick was enough to finish his night. The final though was a contest between to former champions. Adam Miller - a very relaxed and confident looking fighter. This is nothing to do with the way he fought but the way he smoked a cigarette lent up against the scoreboard before the biggest fight of his life! He was a solid looking bloke complete with a beard and a man who wore proper shin-kicking footwear. His opponent was Zac (we never caught his surname!) He was wiry. Skinnier. Had an injury coming into the final and was wearing trainers and skinny jeans and looked like he was going for a pint and a game of pool rather than a "world championship" fight! He was by far and away the underdog! The fight started and the kicks got wilder every time the crowd got involved. It was just like the film Gladiator but on a £100 budget. At this point you are perhaps expecting us to tell you that Zac pulled off a shock win... He didn't! Adam won though not by knock-out, although that was inevitable, but by Zac withdrawing through said injury.
The night didn't end there.. no way.. it got a whole lot stranger. We went off to buy our antipodean friends a torch each for the procession down into the town. When I looked around they had disappeared. We followed some chanting in the distance that when we got closer we a) managed to see them and b) hear that the chants were "BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD". Two men were fighting in a ring with what looked like a sword your dad would make you when you were seven wearing what looked like bee-keeping headgear and a man who could have been Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball's identical twin geeing up the crowd to join him with the chanting.. Well.. when in Rome!
As that finished we turned around to watch 3 ladies breathing fire. This just seemed relatively normal after everything that had gone before. One did almost set her hair on fire but apart from that it was pretty good. The only way they could have bettered it was by lighting the beacon by breathing on it!
The said beacon was lit and a firework display wowed the torch wielding crowd ready for the walk down the hill and into the town. As we left the field we crossed a cross-road where cars were waiting for us to pass. We really hope that they were locals and not tourists who were lost or it would have scared the life out of them! We continued our march with torches aloft (more for health and safety reason than ready to hunt the local witch to burn!) and made our way into Chipping Campden. The sight of the torch procession down the hill is truly wonderful. If you didn't know that there was any (probable) history attached to the event you could have been mistaken in thinking you were a member of a Cotswolds cult similar to the one in Hot Fuzz (which was actually meant to have been filmed in the Stow on the Wold! #FilmFact), but what we were apart of was an incredible Cotswolds tradition that has been running for hundreds of years and organised by fantastic volunteers who don't just bring a whole town together for a weekend but thousands of people from all around the world to enjoy an unforgettable and enjoyable spectacle!
Listen to Graham Torrington - Late Night Love.
This man became our go to relationship and love guru as he graced the airways when we were meant to be going to sleep!
Would play Championship Manager all night..
2 hours of the ultimate football management game was never enough and staying up all night on your Amiga 500 trying to get Manchester City into the Premier League (they were really crap in the 90s!) was just the norm!
Calling a girls house phone but hanging up before you got to the last digit of their number!
Possibly the most nervous thing to do as there were no such things as mobiles let alone texting! The gut wrenching that would occur when the thought of her parents answering was just too much to bear!
Watching Teletext or Ceefax for hours on a Saturday.
In the days before Gillette Soccer Saturday there was a thing called Teletext on ITV and Ceefax on BBC. At 3pm on a Saturday you would press either 141 or 303 depending on your preference and watch a screen full of text for 90 minutes!
Watched Gladiators for one reason
Saturday night TV was pretty limited with only 5 channels in most households so when Gladiators came on our screens we couldn't wait to see Jet in a skimpy number fight off her feeble contenders!
Used a manual love calculator with a girls name you fancied..
Didn't we all use this faultless calculation to work out whether young love would blossom and were genuinely gutted with a low score!
Owned a Dready or Spliffy item of clothing..
You may laugh at what youngsters of today wear but can you remember those awful baggy arse jeans that you used to adore? Say no more!
Still watched kids TV when they got in from school..
There is one thing you never grow out of and that is good children's TV. Who didn't watch Grange Hill (with a rubbish new theme tune), The Queen's Nose and The Demon Headmaster when they rocked in from a hard day?
Being addicted to playing snake..
The first mobile phone was probably around before your house had the internet so downloads were an unknown mystery! The game than blew (and screwed) the minds of many was snake! (google it!)
Having a diet of cereal, crisp sandwiches and a fry up..
Our culinary skills were not the greatest in our teens and many of us would search the larder full of lots of lovely fresh produce only to return with a bowl of shreddies or a salt and vinegar sarnie!