Friday, 3 September 2010

There be Rhinos

1st September 2010

I was some way from Marple Bridge, when I received the call to Southern Sudan. The entire Mandall family was strolling to the jetty for a day-trip from Puerto Pollenca in Mallorca, when I had to deal with the embarrassment of having the phone in one hand and suntan lotion in the other. Ten days later I find myself en route to Juba.

Amsterdam is Tulips: Schiphol Airport has boxes and boxes of them, all frills and colours, all wire and paper, standing to attention next to the travelators. There are bargain buckets of bulbs outside the gift shops, and fibre-glass tulips four foot high too for children to play among.

Nairobi is Elephants: arriving passengers at Jomo Kenyatta are heralded by great plastic heads, crowned “DUTY FREE”, and stationed at intervals along the curved mall.  I settle in the soft seats (it’s 6 hours till my flight to Juba) at the Savanna Self-service, cheek by jowl  with the Java Bar and Lounge. It must be continental drift. There’s plenty of time to sample the tea at both. It’s made with frothy milk from an Espresso machine. At last, here is something authentic and slightly dangerous. Like the tea on Kenya Airlines, this treat is a stout liquor of tang and tannin, nothing like the usual lazy Lipton, lolling in its own tepid mess. It can even shake a trunk at Mrs M's Red Label. Half way through my first brew, I’m ready to charge despite three hours sleep.

Juba, I learned from Mandallay’s daily, is to be Rhinos: at least this is the vision of some consultants. Here’s the blueprint: build a city in the shape of a rhino 10 km away from the current site, and move everyone in. Raze the old town and anyone who happens to be left. It will cost £6.5 billion, a snip at 5 times Southern Sudan’s annual budget. Somehow, I don’t think the consultants will be living at the dung end. Still, I suppose they could put the military in the horn, and perhaps they could co-locate the red light district.

Yes, we consultants like to keep things simple

In which case, here's something I knocked up earlier, a blueprint for the redesign of Nairobi.

The advantage of my layout, as you will see, is that there is considerably more scope for peri-urban sprawl, once the elephant is full up.

My bill’s in the post.

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I've no idea whether there are rhinos, mythical beasts if ever there were, anywhere near Juba, though I have heard there is a huge area of open country in Southern Sudan surprisingly undisturbed by the war, and full of wildlife.

Sitting here in Nairobi airport, Juba feels a very long way away still, almost as far as Nairobi from Marple Bridge. Southern Sudan, of which Juba is the capital, seems to be a place known more by rumour than experience. One freelance companion claims to have visited the place, but that was passing through in 1979. I downloaded The Lonely Planet Guide, but it only covers the top half of Sudan.  It stops at the Nuba Mountains.

Beyond is Southern Sudan, a nation-in-waiting that hopes to become independent after a referendum next year. The same article says it’s dubbed the world’s first “pre-failed state”, but that sounds to me about as full of myth as the rhino: let’s wait and see.


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Marple Bridge is Brambles, but hardly unique for that. Perhaps the Apple Lady, as we know her, has left a box of cookers beside her garden gate, with a sign saying “help yourself”.

I see Cheshire Life is running a feature on Marple Bridge this month.

Marple Bridge celebrates the modern northern kitchen. This fine recipe for Lambrini Apples was given to me by local author, Tom Mandall.

“Take 6 baking apples, or else buy them at the Co-op.  I found my brambles in the public car park by the Gardeners Arms in Offerton, avoiding the lower brambles for obvious reasons. I picked enough brambles to fill up the little box between the seats in the Fiesta.

“Core the apples, making sure you remove all the toe-nails. (The boys probably won’t eat them anyway, but Never Give Up Hope.) Score them round the equator, so that they puff up nicely, unless you think they will provide more entertainment if they explode all over the Aga. [This recipe is for Cheshire Life, after all.]

"Wash the brambles too as a concession to hygiene. Stir into them about two tablespoons of unrefined sugar. (This may be difficult to find locally, as we are not terribly refined ourselves.) Stuff the apples, and put them all in a baking dish.

"Search the fridge for something to stop this drying out. I found a tail-end of Lambrini from M2’s Results Day bash. Sweet, vaguely grapey and alcoholic. It must have been for the girls.

"Feel your home fill with the autumn warmth of brambles, apples and industrial ethanol. Goes well with cream, but the boys prefer the yellow stuff.”

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