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Youth Development Programme: ex Carpentry and Joinery students working on a roof at Awach

Youth Development Programme: ex Carpentry and Joinery students working on a roof at Awach

It was finding this photo again recently that brought it all back; it shows some of our ex-students working on a roof. The building will be a new classroom for teaching Motor Vehicle Maintenance, the students were all graduates and skilled enough to be employed by their old college. They have kept their college overalls and wear them with pride as they bounce sure footed about the growing roof, notice their flip-flops on the ground by the dancing youth. The colours are strong, new and bright, the shadows sharp and deep; three degrees north of the equator you would expect nothing less.

Goodbye Old Year

Goodbye Old Year

Is this where I write a roundup of the year just gone? Maybe a self-satisfied description of the unbelievable successes of our over-entitled offspring? Their nationally important roles as cupcake sales persons, hand car wash operatives and niche website facilitators? Perhaps I should dwell at length on the overwhelming successes of our semi feral grandchildren and how little Ptolemy’s performance as a carrot at the Nativity ‘literally’ stole the show?

Goodbye Old Year

Goodbye Old Year

Or maybe not, because none of that would be true. In reality Storm Frank is still thumping into the side of our rented barn conversion in a farmyard on the edge of Dartmoor.

Goodbye Old Year

Goodbye Old Year

Even the sheep with fortnight old lambs have been brought in to their barns, so the weather must be awful. In our own warmer and sheep free barn, (unlike the imaginary Ptolemy we have not recreated the nativity ourselves) we can at least reflect on where we were this time last year.

The food spot, Kidepo National Park, Uganda

The food spot, Kidepo National Park, Uganda

As far away as possible, in Kidepo National Park, north-east Uganda looking forward to vegetables and rice for lunch and again for supper.

Waterbuck, Kidepo National Park, Uganda

Waterbuck, Kidepo National Park, Uganda

We have, I suppose, made the change from one continent to another, from one world to another although we miss our colleagues, the warmth, the light and the sense of purpose that comes with volunteering.

Goodbye Old Year

Goodbye Old Year

Down here in Devon, the sun wearily struggles above the horizon, occasionally sighing for a while above the hedgerows before slowly plodding downwards again. All of the tones are muted, edges are soft and one form bleeds into another. All is indistinct and unclear, a range of grey washed out earthy greens that feel old and worn.

St Ives, New Year's Eve

St Ives, New Year’s Eve

A quick trip to St Ives further down into the South West for New Year’s Eve, the town a riot of fancy dress at night.

Gurnards Head from Zennor Head

Gurnards Head from Zennor Head

Then Zennor Head for the New Year’s day walk, storm bound; wet and windy but the wind blew in enough vigour to start the new year we hope.

Goodbye Old Year: driving into a bright future?

Goodbye Old Year: driving into a bright future?

 

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Todays forecast is for low cloud and rain, again

Todays forecast is for low cloud and rain, again

If the past is another country and they do things differently there (O Level study of ‘The Go Between’, sorry) which aspects get changed in translation?

Local firework display:: The Battle of Waterloo

Local firework display:: The Battle of Waterloo

Between the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo, the serving out of the sausages and the filling of the charity bucket in the firework display at the small north Dartmoor village we find ourselves in at the moment, they played music. We got used to cultural dislocation via bizarre musical combinations while we were in Gulu. Cliff Richards’ ‘Congratulations’ was played at every opportunity, more Westlife songs than is necessary (any more than none obviously), ‘’Islands in the Stream’ whenever possible along with the usual Celine Dion, local pop music and Acholi traditional songs.

Wet Devon

Wet Devon

But what surprised me in wet Devon as blond children rushed around with glow sticks and we stood around in the mud, was a Country and Western version of Patti Smith’s version of Springsteen’s song: ‘Because the Night’. Patti Smith’s raw singing made it an iconic song in Leeds in the early punk days. The only night club in town then (imagine that) had the single (imagine that too), we would demand it endlessly, would leap onto the dance floor as it rapidly cleared; that style of music was loathed by everyone else. And here it was thirty nine years later, a milky version that nonetheless accurately copied Patti Smith’s vocal styling, passing entirely without notice as the mix segued into some other anodyne American something or other, Celine Dion probably.

More wet Devon

More wet Devon

Elvis Costello is reading his autobiography on Radio Four at the moment, heard him describing his ecstatic reaction to The Clash’s ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ yesterday morning and he played the song too, all before ten ‘o’ clock in the morning.

And now Siouxsie Sue is on the radio talking about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, eh? What has happened while we were away?

And yesterday I went to the London premiere of a film (The Revenge of the Mekons) about the band I used to be in way back when. Another form of the group is still going (a Country and Western version). The film is mostly about the newer group and certainly had a bigger audience than we ever did way back etc; curiouser and curiouser.

The sun: briefly

The sun: briefly

You couldn’t get further from the febrile urban atmosphere of the late seventies than the sodden fields and moors around us now, it has stopped raining since our arrival but only briefly.

The distant past: stone circle

The distant past: stone circle

The past we have been approaching here is very distant, stone circles, clapper bridges,

The distant past: clapper bridge

The distant past: clapper bridge

worked out mines and tiny lanes made for people on foot or pack horses.

The project: caravan on the hill

The project: caravan on the hill

Have we made any decisions about where to live and what to live in? A project? Living in a caravan while we struggle with ancient building techniques?

The project: all it needs is a little bit of tidying up

The project: all it needs is a little bit of tidying up

As Grace Slick sings ‘go ask Alice’ on the radio I’m reminded of the very different role of the past in Gulu. We worked and lived amongst astonishingly optimistic people, very few old buildings, a non-literary culture, no real evidence of the deep past and no wish to remember horrific and violent recent times.

Go Ask Alice

Go Ask Alice

On Dartmoor, as the rain sheets by, the past or rather a curious translation of the past, is threaded through everything we see, think and do. How that past will govern our next choices still seems to be placed in the future.

Or just fly away?

Or just fly away?

PS

‘Hold Back the Night’ was another important song, this time by Graham Parker and the Rumour came out in 1977. The drummer, fact fans, is now drummer with the current Mekons.

The road in front of us: from one continent to another

The road in front of us: from one continent to another

“The road in front of us grew bleaker and wilder over huge russet and olive slopes, sprinkled with giant boulders. Now and then we passed a moorland cottage, walled and roofed with stone, with no creeper to break its harsh outline. Suddenly we looked down into a cuplike depression, patched with stunted oaks and firs which had been twisted and bent by the fury of years of storm. Two high, narrow towers rose over the trees. The driver pointed with his whip.

“Baskerville Hall,” said he.”

From “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published 1901-2

The road in front of us

The road in front of us: bleak and wild?

Probably the most famous story set on Dartmoor, where we now find ourselves,  back to getting the usual skewed view of Africa by watching wildlife programmes on TV (the new Attenborough is very good though, we can jump up and down on the sofa and say: “we have been there”).

The road in front of us: Wildebeest and our own Attenborough moment

The road in front of us: Wildebeest and our own Attenborough moment

Are we staying in a high, narrow tower? Not quite, it’s a barn conversion on a working farm.

The road in front of us: we're in the barn on the left

The road in front of us: we’re in the barn on the left

Ugandan subsistence farming meant hours of digging with a hand hoe. Farming here seems to involve rushing around in big machines through narrow farmyards and much moving of mud from here to there.

The road in front of us: mud waiting to be moved somewhere

The road in front of us: mud waiting to be moved somewhere

I remember, when we came first came back from our two years and nine months in Gulu, my eye kept being drawn to the skyline, Gulu was low rise and flat.

 

The Kitgum Stage

The dramatic height changes of London were mesmerising at first, although like so much of the once so familiar that had then become strange, it quickly became familiar once more.

The road in front of us: London skyline

The road in front of us: London skyline

Our new situation? Yes it is in a bowl, or ‘cuplike depression’, as most farms seem to be; “muddy bottoms” Mary calls them.

The road in front of us: muddy bottoms

The road in front of us: muddy bottoms

It is a world of mists, soft light across undifferentiated fields leading to a clearly differentiated skyline; what appears to be a relatively close horizon. Some sort of metaphor for our quest to find a new life? No, it’s just quite misty.

The road in front of us: what have we missed?

The road in front of us: what have we missed?

Big tractors running through the yard again with dogs snapping at their heels, many dogs, also quite undifferentiated, they never quite seem to get out of the way of the vehicles. Our dog, clearly designated as pet, lies in her basket looking puzzled, as indeed do we (appear puzzled that is).

The road in front of us: play misty for me

The road in front of us: play misty for me

“Through the gateway we passed into the avenue, where the wheels were again hushed amid the leaves, and the old trees shot their branches in a sombre tunnel over our heads. Baskerville shuddered as he looked up the long, dark drive to where the house glimmered like a ghost at the farther end.”

The road in front of us: the avenue up to Castle Drogo

The road in front of us: the avenue up to Castle Drogo

How will the story end?

The road in front of us

The road in front of us

Some Background

We were in Gulu, Northern Uganda for two years nine months, working with a huge DFID funded vocational training programme.

Gulu is on the road to South Sudan, it was the centre of the conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Government. Many of the Internally Displaced Peoples camps were here. The northern region has been peaceful since about 2007-8 and the context has moved from emergency humanitarian aid to development work.

The Vocational Training Institutes provide opportunities for the youth(male and female aged 14-35). Most of them lived in the camps or were abducted by the LRA. They have had very little education, leaving them with few skills. Our purpose was to help these Vocational Training Institutes build up their capacity to equip the youth with what they need to earn a living and live as decent a life as possible.

By the Way
Mark's old art/ history of art website is still active should you want to read more by him or look at his work

Whitemarkarts

From There to Here

Our Old Life, Packed Away in one Twenty Foot Container

Here

A Vocational Training Institute, Assembly under the Mango Tree

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