Archive | November, 2013

Pool to Pond – how I learnt to stop fighting nature

10 Nov

About ten months ago I read an article about turning pools into ponds. It had a picture of someone plunging into lily-bedecked water. ‘We should do that!’ I said.

We weren’t good at pool maintenance — ours was never a sparkling blue expanse. Each summer it was a battle to keep the pool looking reasonable — running the pump, hauling chlorine up our 100 steps, scooping the leaves that fell from the overhanging branches. And it didn’t even get all that much use. The beach is only five minutes’ walk away.

I’m not the domestic type – I’ve never had much interest in house or garden, but the ‘pool to pond’ became my pet project. It made perfect sense. The amount of effort, chemicals and power required to keep our pool functioning showed that nature had other plans.

I am obviously a pagan at heart.

So we stopped running the pump and putting chlorine in. It turned green and smelly. At this stage we had doubts. But one month later I spotted a swimming insect in the pool. This was, I had heard, a signal that the pond was safe for life.

My son and I went out and bought a goldfish and released it into the murky water. Anti-climactically, it vanished instantly and remained out of sight for many days. We named it Scott, after Scott of the Antarctic, because it bravely went where no fish had been before.

Next, we bought some water plants – reeds which rested on the top step and lilies for the lower step. The water was still murky, but with the addition of plants at least it looked like it was intended that way.

A week or so later, we discovered Scott, lurking in the pool filter area. He was still alive, so we bought ten more fish. As we put them in Scott came out of hiding and joined the gang as they patrolled their new home. He’d just been waiting for some company.

Ten months down the track, the water is so clear we can see to the bottom and the fish have doubled in size. They must be happy in their home as tiny baby goldfish now swim with the pack. They are all practically oblivious when we put on goggles and swim gently through the lilies, lingering close enough to touch.

Several times a day I wander out and gaze at the calming sight of fish darting through the lilies. And I don’t know why we didn’t do this years ago.

For the full pond immersion experience click below or here.

Vivid and sensual – The Pagoda Tree by Claire Scobie

1 Nov

the pagoda treeThe Pagoda Tree is the first novel by journalist Claire Scobie, whose previous book was a travel memoir, Last Seen in Lhasa. Here, Scobie turns her gaze from Tibet to India.

The novel is set in 1765 and is the story of Maya, who is destined from birth to become an Indian temple dancer or devadasi. Scobie’s inspiration to write the book came from a visit to a temple in Southern India. Here she saw the names of 400 dancing girls engraved upon the 11th century walls. From this starting point grew Maya’s story.

Highly trained in dancing, music and love-making, the temple dancers were married to the God Shiva and often became courtesans of powerful men. Devadasis had a level of control over their lives not given to other Indian women and were the only women taught to read and write at the time.

Mentored by Palani, a powerful devadasi, Maya becomes a dancer of rare beauty and skill. But while she is destined to be given to the prince, the turbulent times cast her adrift. Set during the British colonial era, the book shows the effect of the occupation on Indian traditions.

Maya’s dancing captivates the Europeans as well as the Indians. In Madras she forms a risky liaison with a young British trader. This clash of cultures drives the story. Her lover, Thomas, is torn between his desire for Maya and his ‘true life’ waiting for him back in England. His choice is complicated by the birth of their daughter, a girl with no status in either culture.

This carefully researched novel provides an insight into Indian culture. The title of the story refers not only to a temple but also to a common expression among the British of the time. ‘Shaking the pagoda tree’ was a term for making quick, easy money. The cruelty of some of the British colonial practices forms a backdrop to Maya’s story.

Scobie says that researching the story was hard due to the lack of historical records about the dancing girls. In writing The Pagoda Tree she sought to bring their untold story to life. This is a vividly told and sensual novel which will be especially enjoyed by those with an interest in India.

For those in the Byron area, Claire Scobie is conducting a workshop on travel writing in Byron Bay on the 7th of December. See

My blog seems to have become strangely popular in Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago of late. So if you’re reading this from there – a big hello to you! I’m glad to be getting to some exotic locations, if only in spirit.