Wednesday, August 27, 2008


There's often a specific reason why you remember a place – be it a town, city or even a whole region. Manorbier is one such place for me.

“Indeed,” you might well reply hoping for some more information which would help you place Manorbier somewhere on some map. It is the site of some interesting castle ruins (photo), but we didn't even visit them. When in Wales one can't possibly visit all their old castles without over-running one's allotted time. We had already selected those we wished to visit.

Across the narow valley from the castle was the Church of St James, a beautiful old stone structure dating from Norman times. It would have been in use back in the twelfth century when the castle was under construction. Beside it was this interesting old cemetery.

Manorbier is somewhat off the beaten track in Southern Wales and does not suffer from a continuous train of tourists. It is on 'highway' A4585. Now that is off the beaten track! We had tacked it onto our visit to Tenby, a better-known resort in this part of Wales. We agreed that it was well worth while. After this impromptu extension to our itinerary, it was straight back to our accommodation in Laugharne, some fifty twisting kilometres away.

We were tiredly unpacking the car – maps and brochures, lunch hamper, wet weather gear, mementoes from Tenby when: “Have you seen my camera?” A quick search and then further frantic searching yielded no result. My simple question: “Well, where did you leave it?” evoked a rather threatening glare from my wife. Then began the memory game until a possibility finally emerged.
“I must have left it on a pew in that Norman church in What's the Name of that Place? Oh yes! Manorbier.”
“Are you sure?”
Would it still be there? Merely entering a church for an idle look might not enforce on everyone the commandment,Thou shalt not nick a camera someone left lying on a pew. Maybe a phone call to the local vicar? Bless his soul, he suggested he would drive out to the church (it was situated a few kilometres outside the town), have a look and get back to us.
“Yes,” he later phoned, he had rescued it.

And so the 100 twisting, tired kilometres to retrieve the camera firmly cemented the name “Manorbier” in my memory.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


“Never smile at a crocodile.
No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile.
Don't be taken in by his welcome grin,
He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin.”

The words of this old song (popular in the middle of last century after the appearance of the Walt Disney film, Peter Pan) came to mind when I saw the - dare I say – smirks on the faces of the crocodiles at the Cairns Tropical Zoo in North Queensland. “Welcome grin”? Hardly! Supercilious smirk would be my estimation. And ugly. Yes, “ugly” would be a fair description of the faces lolling around inside the enclosure. No beauty contest winners here. Not even the odd second prize.

Can it climb trees?
How fast can it run?
Is it a greedy feeder?
These were some of the question asked at the crocodile show. Sort of safety first questions but purely academic to me for I would prefer to keep well away from their natural habitat (the keeper suggested that this was the best safety measure of all). Seeing them from a distance in a safe enclosure in a zoo is quite enough to satisfy my adventurous spirit.

It was a little tense and worrying to see the handler in the pen with these dangerous creatures. Well he didn't really “handle” them in the same way as the snake handler allowed the snakes to slither all over him but he did appear to treat them rather off-handedly. Oh, how languidly the old tick-tock appeared to rest in the water. But be not deceived. As the keeper moved backwards and forwards in front of his snout the suspicious, half-open eyes followed him from side to side. His primeval brain may not be very large, but what he has was surely “imagining how well you'd fit within his skin”.

The keeper showed little concern. Crocks are not greedy feeders, he assured us (and himself, probably) and a well-fed croc is unlikely to attack. Which is all very well in a zoo where they can be kept well fed, but what about in the wild where one doesn't know when Charlie Croc (or Crissy Croc) had the last bite to eat. Make no mistake, the emphasis is on the BITE. The speed at which the mouth opened and the resounding “snap” to devour the proffered chicken carcass was frightening. As was the force with which that upper jaw slammed shut! Ever been bitten by a rottweiler? Ever looked at his snarling, salivery mouth and shuddered? Those who know, tell us that Mr Croc has fifteen times more power in his snap than that puppy (the crocodile's word, not mine). Ouch! Luckily for us their jaws cannot open so easily; so grab that snout!

And another thing. The water in his enclosure is too shallow for him to get the same propulsion that is possible in deeper water. An unexpected onslaught would be quite unlikely. I don't know about you, but I am never completely convinced by the term “unlikely”.

Would he jump out of the water and chase a person? Quite unlikely. Crocodiles are not in the business of chasing. They are ambush predators. They can run 15-17 kilometres per hour over twice their own length. Like running the 100 metres in about 20 seconds and so most of us could beat a crocodile in the 100 metres sprint. So you have only ever run it in 19 seconds. Don't worry! I'm sure you would find that extra second somewhere. A crocodile would not bother finishing the race. If he hasn't caught his prey in 3-4 metres he gives up and waits till next time. This is a strategy which seems to have worked very well, for they have been around for a very long time. They were there when dinosaurs walked the earth. They were around when Muttaburrasaurus was grazing the outback and Kronosaurus frolicked in our inland seas.

Yes, the crocodile has remained. For our pleasure? Pleasure perhaps not; but certainly to evoke our “Oohs” and “Aaahs” when it displays some of its pre-historic traits.