Friday, 20 July 2012

A book review from British Columbia

'Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville available on Amazon Kindle

A highly enjoyable, beautifully written & illustrated book! 
by Dave Miller
I first downloaded a sample of Sophie Neville's Funnily Enough book for my ereader a few months back and immediately loved it. I searched all my local bookstores to no avail but finally ordered it from Amazon. I devoured the book in a few days!

It's chock full of beautiful little illustrations throughout (done by Sophie've got to love that kind of personal touch!) told in a day by day journal over a year. Most journals can at times be boring and mundane in thier details but Sophie has chronicled her illness superbly. Not an easy thing to do when one's sick. It's interspersed with a great cast of characters (human as well as animals) that will make you laugh and cry and want to know more about them.

Having a few relatives that have/had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome I found the book to be an insightful read. I know back when they were diagnosed in the early 90's there wasn't much known about it at all. And they suffered the "it's all in your head" stigma. I'll encourage them to read this book!

From donkeys to otters and even a trip to the Lake District (which I've never been to but hope to one day) where she all to briefly mentions Swallows & Amazons (the movie in which she played my favourite character Titty). I'd like to think that the character Titty as she grew up would have led a very similar life as the actress/author who portrayed her. World traveler. Artist. Author. I wonder if Sophie maybe was inspired by the character too?

As I got near the end of the book I was a little saddened it was over so quickly (always the sign of a very good book though!). I'm delighted that there's a sequel of sorts (Ride the Wings of Morning) which I'm about to order soon. And if it's half as good as I found Funnily Enough I know I'm in for another fantastic read!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Living with Otters ~

'Funnily Enough' author Sophie Neville with her tame otter Beenie

Sophie Neville with her tame otter

We have kept tame otters at Bakers Mill since 1980. These are not the large, secretive European otters that are native to Britain but sociable Asian short-clawed otters bred in wildlife parks that we've been asked to hand-rear, usually because they have been neglected by their mothers. We keep them, under license, for educational purposes. Their enclosure has a stream running through it and bath-tubs where they swim. They are cautious about of swimming in the deep water of our lake - unless we swim with them, which is a somewhat demanding experience. Being sociable the otters love showing off and are regularly taken both for walks and off to country shows around England and Wales where you can watch them and ask questions about otters.

Daphne Neville with her tame otters

Daphne Neville with her otters

My parents started lecturing on the conservation of otters thirty-five years ago, promoting the need for pure water in our rivers so that our native otters can flourish and re-gain healthy populations in the wild. At one stage they had four tame otters but they have never bred them, for these are exotic species that cannot be released into the wild.

There are thirteen different species of otter. They are often elusive and difficult to spot but I have watched European (or Eurasian) otters fishing along the coast of Skye, spotted spotted-necked otters playing in the Okavango Delta and Cape-clawless otters swimming at Knotsie Bay in South Africa. My mother has travelled the world to see to them in the wild  ~ to California where you find the sea otter, India where she supports the hairy-nosed otter project, to an International Otter Convention in Chile and has even swum in the Orinoco River with the giant otters of Bolivia that can reach twelve foot in length.

'Bee a Particular Otter' by Daphne Neville

Our first otter was called Bee. This was because otters smell slightly of honey. She had so many adventures that my mother wrote a children's book about her. This came out in hardback in 1982. When she found second-hand copies for sale on Amazon recently she had a smaller paperback version printed.
With illustrations by Jackie Gouvier they are designed so you can read one story a night at bed-time for two-weeks or so and make good presents.

If you would like a copy, and live in the UK, please send a stamped-addressed A5 enveople with £1.20's worth of stamps and a cheque for £5 made out to the author, Daphne Neville, Bakers Mill, Frampton Mansell, Glos, GL6 8JH. You can find second-hand copies of the original hardback on Amazon - please see the carosel of books below.

'Funnily Enough' author Sophie Neville with her tame otter Beenie

Sophie Neville with Beenie the Otter and her first painting

Hand-rearing otters is very demanding. Can you imagine having an otter cub in your bed? They are hyper-active and extremely dexterous. Until the age of 4 months they are frightened of water and will not even go near a running tap. Introducing them to it takes time and patience.

Beenie the tame otter belonging to Sophie Neville

I was once given the responsibility of looking after a lovely little female otter we were asked to rear called Beenie. She became very tame but I quite ran out of ways to entertain her. Once she was about three months old I put down a plate with a little water and added colour from may paintbox - watercolours in rose pink and sap green. I laid down a slab of mount board and let her play. The result was a series of truly beautiful paintings, delicately executed. Once framed they looked beautiful. We auctioned the one above to raise money for charity - not for conservation, as it happened, but for The Hyperactive Children's Support Group. It seemed apt. Beenie went on to open the Wildlife Arts Society Exhibition in Bath, appearing in The Daily Telegraph as a result.

'Funnily Enough' author Sophie Neville with her tame otter Beenie

Beenie the Otter with Sophie Neville in the Daily Telegraph

On another occasion we appeared on the front cover of The Daily Telegraph newspaper with the Prince of Wales and Beenie became a true ambassador of her species.

The  Prince of Wales with Sophie Neville

I have related some of the stories about keeping otters in 'Funnily Enough' but there are many more. You can see more of my own sketches of the otters - and their attempts to distract me on the Ride the Wings of Morning Blogspot.

Sophie Neville, the girl with a tame otter 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A book review from South Africa

'Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon

Funnily Enough: funny, real and inspiring

I laughed the first time I read "Funnily Enough" and as I re-read it now, I am laughing at exactly the same places.

As much as the book is humorous, it also brings home the reality of how we push ourselves for fear of falling behind or losing what we have built up. We forget that all this can change in the twinkling of an eye and ultimately is not important.

The book helps to put life back into perspective and to remind us of where our hope, trust and faith should lie. Sophie's diary entries of the goings on within herself, the family and pets and with her friends over a period of a year while she is coming to terms with her illness and working towards recovery are thoroughly entertaining and illuminating. Her sketches add to the already vivid pictures that Sophie conjures up through her writing. Some of the incidents are absolutely bizarre but yet so typical of our journey in life. It was a completely enjoyable read the first time and even more inspiring the second time around. Superb. 

by Jennifer Hutcheon, Gauteng, South Africa
~ 3rd July 2012

Monday, 9 July 2012

Parrots I have known ~

'Funnily Enough' by Sophie Neville available in paperback from Amazon

Today I have been writing about parrots. Parrots I have known. Parrots I have lived with. Parrots I've observed in the wild. I've even appeared in a movie with a parrot on my shoulder. And on television.  In front of the camera not once but twice!  Am I brave or what?

When I was little my grandmother kept two budgerigars. They were called Pippernella and Chrysanthemum. Pippanella was blue, Chrysanthemum was green and yellow. Everything about them entranced me. If we were good and very gentle we were allowed to take them out before bedtime. Since Granny was an invalid, stuck in the house all day long, the birds had become her very special friends. They were beautifully cared for. If one of them shed a tail feather it was kept in a glass vase on her desk.

My parents must have kept parrots, parakeets or macaws for most of their married lives. We were given two of them. They out-lived their original owners and were brought to our house. I've no idea why. It is amazing that they stayed. My mother couldn't bare the thought of them being cooped up in a cage so let them out as much as possible. They loved this but it caused endless dramas. Josey-Jo, my mother's Blue-fronted Amazon parrot would fly around the house only to lose sight of places to perch. If you weren't careful she'd land on the top of your head. It can give a girl quite a fright. Once she landed on the side of a frying pan, once she ended up in the dish-washer. Dad nearly turned it on with her inside. She did terrible damage too, nibbling away at the top of veneered corner cupboards or antique picture frames, dining room chairs and rather a good chest of drawers.

We thought that an aviary would be the answer. The result was an enormous parrot cage built outside the kitchen door. This is illustrated above. Please don't copy the design. It did not work well. For some reason it now houses guinea pigs.

Josey-Jo was eventually given quite a large cage in the dining room where she happily spent her days. She originally belonged to an old lady and had picked up her voice. When you arrived home she would say, 'Hellow' in a slightly cracked and rather smart inquiring manner, sounding exactly like an 87-year-old woman. Any stranger would ask if Granny was still at home. No burglar alarm could work better.

Henry, our scarlet macaw, had a perch rather than a cage. He was unable to fly but loved being allowed to sit in the willow tree or on a post in the garden where he could see everyone come and go. Sometimes he would climb down and alarm visitors by walking pigeon-toed across the lawn to greet them, bent forward so that his tail did not touch the grass. His long red tail feathers were kept in a jug too.

When I lived in Africa I often came across small Meyer's parrots in the wild. Apparently they are often considered 'parrotlets'. No matter. They gave us such joy. One sighting and one's spirits would soar. Apparently they are classified as 'trans-continental parrots', having the widest distribution of any parrot in Africa. You can find them from South Africa up to Ethiopia, flashing through the trees.

The filming? Ahh, you can read about filming with Captain Flint's parrot and appearing on Animal Magic on my other blog. The most bizarre experience - which I don't think anyone has ever written about - was when I went with Alastair Fothergill to watch the wildlife camera man Simon King filming great tits in Bristol. They were about to fledge from a bird box nailed to someone's shed in rather a grotty part of town. The only way of reaching the long back garden was through a basement flat belonging to an odd old couple who were living in an extreme state of squallor and filth, almost like tramps. They had a budgie. It seemed very happy and was singing away but obviously hadn't been cleaned out for years, so many years that a column of black and white flecked guano had formed on the base of the tiny cage, rising nearly five inches high towards the perch on which the little bird sang. I didn't know what to say. We walked on to relieve Simon. This was crucial. He hadn't been able to leave his camera position all day for fear of missing the moment when the little great tit chicks left the nest. As a result he was dying to go to the loo. I told him that he'd better let Alastair take over for a while or he'd end up like the budgie.