An Alphabet Of Things I Like: L

Lizards.

Lizards come in all shapes and sizes. Most countries have a native lizard, some many varieties. Even Britain has three native species of lizard.

Some are very colourful.

Others can grow to an imposing size, and can be dangerous.

My personal favourite has always been the Chameleon. This colour-changing lizard has strange swivelling eyes, and a very unusual way of moving. It can also extend its tongue considerable distances to catch its prey.

I have never been tempted to own one as a pet. They require special care, and I think they should be left where they belong, in the wild.

But they have always fascinated me.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: K

Koalas.

Ever since the first time I saw a photo of a Koala when I was very young, I have adored these rather dopey-looking cute creatures. I used to pester my parents to get me one as a pet, not realising that they only eat Eucalyptus leaves. I have heard that they can sometimes be aggressive, but looking at them, that is impossible to believe.

The baby Koalas are even cuter than the adults, just irresistible.

During the recent devastating fires in Australia, untold numbers of those poor animals perished in the flames. People went to great lengths to try to save them, and care for them when they were burned or injured.

I watched footage on the news of screaming Koalas trapped in the fires, and it was heartbreaking. I sent some money to help all the animals affected, including the Koalas.

Let’s hope that with time, and the loving care of those helping them, Koalas will one day return to the same numbers in the wild.

An Alphabet Of things I Like: J

Japanese Films.

I have written about my love for films from this country many times, so it was always going to be the choice for J.

From my early teens as a member of London’s National Film Theatre, I was introduced to some excellent foreign films, many of which were from Japan. I know lots of you don’t like to watch films with subtitles, but I am going to recommend some anyway.

Akira Kurosawa was one of the coutry’s foremost film-makers, and his historical epics are breathtaking to watch. They also inspired the later ‘Spaghetti Westerns’, and of course ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

But Japanese cinema is about more than Samurai warriors and feuding warlords.

The powerful family saga, ‘Tokyo Story’, made in 1953.

Tough Cop dramas, often starring Beat Takeshi.

Chilling horror films, like these two.

There is also the tradition of monster films, using stop-motion animation. They loved to have famous monsters fighting each other!

That brings me to the wonderful anime films made in Japan by studios that are now world-famous. There are far too many to list, but I have chosen three examples.

Many of the animated films are available in dubbed versions, voiced by famous western film stars. So you don’t even have to worry about those subtitles.
Let me know if you have a personal favourite Japanese film.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: I

Ink.

When I started school in the 1950s, we were taught to write with an implement that had not changed since Victorian times.

The ‘dipping pen’ was dipped into inkwells built into the school desks.

Someone had to be the ‘Ink monitor’, and I volunteered for the job. I had to go around with a container of ink and a metal funnel, filling up each desk inkwell before the lesson began. I liked the smell of the ink, and enjoyed trying to fill the inkwells without the ink overflowing onto the desk. Writing with those pens was not easy. Blots were an issue, and many shirt cuffs and wrists became badly stained with the ink during lessons.

It wasn’t too long before the inkwells were removed, and we were expected to supply our own pens and ink. My parents bought me a ‘lever action’ fountain pen, which sucked the ink up into a rubber tube concealed inside.

Bottles of ink would be carried in our satchels, always very tightly closed to prevent a disastrous spillage that could ruin everything inside.

Then ballpoint pens came along, and ink-pens became a thing of the past before I finished school. But I retained my love for writing with a pen, and continued to send personal letters written this way until just two years ago, when a wrist injury made it difficult for me to hold a pen again.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: H

Hummus. (Humous)

As you can see, it is sometimes spelt differently.

I had never heard of this dip until I went to Greece for the first time, in the 1970s.

This is what it contains.
Ingredients
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas or 1 1/2 cups (250 grams) cooked chickpeas
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
1/4 cup (60 ml) well-stirred tahini, see our homemade tahini recipe
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

I had usually avoided ‘Dips’, which were becoming popular then in England. That was because most were mayonnaise-based, and I never cared for mayonnaise. However, I did like garlic, and when I was presented with hummus and warm pitta bread as a starter in a restaurant in Greece, I immediately loved it.

It was hard to find when I got back to london. With the exception of a few specialist shops in the Greek and Turkish districts of the city, shops did not sell it.

That soon changed, and it is now for sale in every supermarket in Britain.

If you have never had some, and like the taste of garlic, you should definitely try it!

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: G

Gorillas.

Looking into the face of a gorilla is the closest you can get to a human in the animal world, in my opinion. They live in family groups, love and care for their young, and do not hurt anyone or anything, existing on a vegetarian diet.

When I was very young, I was taken to London Zoo to see Guy the Gorilla. He was a famous exhibit there, having arrived in 1946. When I got to his cage, I was overwhelmed with sadness. The huge animal was in a relatively small cage, behind rows of iron bars like a prison cell. This is a photo of him around that time.

He sat close to the bars with his arm extended, and his hand palm up. After more than twelve years in captivity, he had already become used to zoo visitors offering him treats, and he would catch them when they were thrown at him. All were unsuitable of course, and included biscuits, (cookies) chewy sweets, (candy) and even ice cream thrown in paper tubs. The zoo staff made no attempt to stop anyone feeding him, including my mum, who had brought along some iced biscuits especially for him. She was delighted when he caught each one, and ate it immediately. I wanted the staff to let him go, so he could return to living in the jungle again. My mum told me he wouldn’t know what to do in the jungle now.

Guy was kept on his own for over twenty-five years. Eventually, the zoo decided to provide him with a mate. But they never really got on, and never produced any baby gorillas. Guy died in the zoo in 1978, after being little more than a well-fed prisoner there for his entire life.

I was also quite young when I saw the original 1933 film version of King Kong.

Despite the gigantic gorilla being portrayed as violent, including eating people and destroying things, the sympathy of the audience was directed at the poor creature, and his cruel exploitation by showmen and profiteers. When he is mortally wounded, and falls from the top of the Empire State Building, I cried. Later film versions also showed King Kong in a sympathetic light, with the similarity between the emotions of gorillas and humans being remarked upon.

Like many animals, Gorillas suffer at the hands of poachers in the countries where they still live in the wild. Some are killed for food, others for traditional medicine ingredients, and many more to provide grisly ‘trophies’, such as their heads and hands. In recent decades, various indivduals and some organisations have worked hard to establish refuges and safe areas for gorillas in African countries. Wardens have been employed to discourage poachers, and ‘gorilla tourism’ has been established, with people visiting groups of gorillas who have become used to the close proximity of humans.

Let’s hope that this continues, until gorillas are no longer endangered. It would be tragic indeed to see one of our closest relatives become extinct.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: F

Fire.

Humans seem to be instinctively drawn to fire. Camp fires like the one shown above would have been the first reliable source of heat in ancient times, and also provided some light in the darkness. They would have been used for any and all cooking purposes, also serving as a gathering point for family groups and clans. Keeping a fire burning constantly in all weathers would have been one of the most important things for survival. It kept away dangerous animals, and gave protection from the elements.

Until I was fifteen years old, a coal fire in the living room was the only source of heat I knew. From an early age, it was my job to fetch coal from the bunker where it was kept, and before we went to bed, my dad would ‘bank-up’ the fire with extra coal, so that it would still be warm when we woke up.

Once central heaing systems became popular, open fires in the house became a thing of the past. Many fireplaces were boarded up, and in some cases, the chimneys were removed completely. Despite the ease and effectiveness of the new methods, there was no doubt that many of us missed the comfort of seeing real flames in our own homes. On those occasions when it was appropriate, such as trips into the countryside, it wasn’t long before someone would suggest building a fire to sit around. Just for the pleasure of experiencing it again.

When I moved to Norfolk, I still missed having a fire. I bought a Chiminea, and would sit outside when we had guests, or on chilly evenings, enjoying the sight of the flames, and the warmth if you sat close to it.

But I wanted more, and it wasn’t long before I spent a considerable mount of money having a wood-burning stove installed in the living room. It makes me feel complete and reassured, watching the flames through the glass door, and feeling the intense heat warming the house.

My life has gone full circle with fire, from birth to old age.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: E

Elephants.

Who could dislike elephants?

I was lucky enough to go on a holiday to Kenya and Tanzania many years ago, and see these magnificent endangered animals in large numbers outside the sad confines of a zoo environment.

It is good to know that they are no longer cruelly exploited in old-fashioned circuses, though some countries still use them for entertaining tourists, like the football-playing elephants in Thailand. I would love to see all such exploitation banned. They are caring, sensitive animals, and for them this is no better than slavery.

They are still killed in large numbers too, mainly for the ivory in their tusks. It would be good if every country in the UN gave enough money to eradicate this terrible poaching, which continues as I type this.

You only have to look at this lovely baby elephant to see the joy in an animal that lives in family groups, cares for each other, and can live up to the age of 70.

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: D

Doughnuts.

(Yes, my American friends. You have been spelling it wrong all this time)

I adore doughnuts. I have to try not to buy any, or I would eat them all without regret or conscience.

I don’t care that they are bad for you. Most things that taste great are.

It doesn’t matter to me where they come from. Specialist shop, local bakery, or supermarket. I love them all.

Whether glazed ring.

Jam-filled.
(Americans call it ‘Jelly’, but it’s not. That’s something different.)

A twisty Yum-Yum.

Or my top-favourite, custard-filled.

To my mind, there is no such thing as a bad doughnut!

An Alphabet Of Things I Like: C

Chinchillas.

These nocturnal rodents from South America are often kept as pets. They are also farmed for the use of their fur. I don’t really agree with either, as fur should stay on the animals where it belongs, and Chinchillas can live for up to fifteen years, and become depressed in captivity. So I do not advocate ever being tempted to own one.

However, I used to know someone who had four of these as pets. They lived together in a very large cage, which had been adapted as well as possible for their habitat. They can grow to be quite large, and some varieties are as big as cats.

The reason they are mentioned here though, is because of their fur. I was given one to hold by my friend, and it had the softest most luxurious fur of any animal I have ever encountered. No dog, cat, rabbit, or other furry animal can compare to touching a Chinchilla. It is softer than velvet, almost impossible to describe just how wonderful it feels to cuddle and stroke those little creatures.

If you ever get the opportunity, I recommend it.