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October 2012 travel news 67
Ivory, Apes & Peacocks
by Alan Root
Alan Root's earliest memories are of wartime
London. An evacuation to the countryside
stimulated his interest in nature, especially
birdlife. Initially heartbroken when his father
accepted a job in Kenya, he soon came to
know and love his new home. His frst box
Brownie camera marked the beginning of an
outstanding photographic career.
Although unfair to say that Root was 'lucky',
he was certainly fortunate in meeting
the contacts he did to help develop his
photographic abilities. His frst mentor was
Myles North, a well-known ornithologist.
Next he encountered Des Bartlett, Armand
and Michaela Denis' brilliant cameraman,
who taught him perfection in wildlife
photography, as did the father-son team
Bernhard and Michael Grzimek. No one with
Root's talent could have had better mentors.
They exemplifed the importance of team
work and patience, two qualities that he and
his wife Joan later epitomised in everything
The Roots were a formidable team, and
having started as a cameraman for others, it
was not long before Alan was making his own
flms. His ingenuity in devising ways to capture
seemingly impossible choices of subject on
flm knew no bounds. His commitment was
to escape from the travelogue-through-
game-parks concept and to produce
ecological themes hitherto unexploited, such
as flming hippos underwater, getting inside
birds' nests and in his own inimitable way,
observing relationships in the bird, animal
and insect worlds. The Roots' ingenuity in
photographing what others regarded as non-
starters through their sheer impossibility,
created the unforgettable story of termites
in 'Castles of Clay', and in 'The Baobab'
the unusual habits of nesting hornbills. His
accounts of flming gorillas in the Congo are
intriguing if heartbreaking, and include live
encounters with Dian Fossey. Most Root
enthusiasts know that Alan's marriage with
Joan ended sadly. Ours is not to reason
why, but it is still diffcult to comprehend.
The book's photographic illustrations,
considering what must be available, are
slightly disappointing, but the drawings by
Wolfgang Weber are a delight throughout.
The story leaves the reader incredulous
at Root's inventiveness in making the
impossible possible in the flms he produced.
Nor does he ever lose his deep respect for
his subjects. He is perhaps the most original
wildlife photographer the world has yet seen.
His book is written with wit and humour,
and his skill with words almost parallels his
genius with a camera.
by Frances Osborne
Frances Osborne delighted readers with her
recent brilliant biography, 'The Bolter'. 'Park
Lane’ is her frst novel and a ‘best seller’.
Incidentally what exactly constitutes 'best-
selling authors' and 'best seller' books?
Whatever they are, there does seem to be
an unconscionable number of both species
about: one wonders how can it be possible?
'Park Lane' tells the story of the Masters family
who have made their now dwindling fortunes
through international railway building during
the early nineteenth century. Interwoven
with the main plot is the story of Grace, one
of the parlour maids, and Michael Campbell,
whose lives become interwoven with the
Masters, especially the younger daughter
Beatrice and her brother Edward. The book
is divided into three sections -- 'peace', 'war'
and 'aftermath'. It begins in early 1914 when
the suffragette movement is on a full collision
course with the government. Although
she is very much part of it, Bea Masters,
as yet unmarried at twenty one, does not
entirely ft in with the superfcial life of the
upper and moneyed classes. Infuenced by
her radical Aunt Celeste, she becomes an
active suffragette, committed to their policy
of violence. However, the outbreak of war
puts an abrupt end to all that, and Beatrice,
seeking further escape from society life,
signs on as an ambulance driver.
Although Osborne's narrative is beautifully
written and carefully researched, somehow
it lacks 'The Bolter's' sparkle. The pace of
the 'peace' section is slow, although it gives
an interesting picture of 1914 London, how
the grand houses of the rich were run, and
how so many of society's upper echelons
lived at such a superfcial level with little
idea of what went on further down the social
scale. The Great War, probably the most
pointless and unproductive of all wars ever
fought, is well described. Osborne's account
of ambulance drivers' experiences is vivid,
also she captures the disillusioned utter
exhaustion caused by the pointless to'ing-
and-fro'ing of trench warfare which brought
no results other than terrible and needless
slaughter. Realism is present up to the end
and the 'happy-ever-after-this-dreadful-war-
is-all-over' atmosphere, in accordance with
the story's ambience remains noticeably
absent throughout the fnal chapters.
This is a book you will want to read. Osborne
is a born author, and it is a guarantee that
she will never produce a mediocre book --
she undoubtedly qualifes as a writer that is
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