Thursday Doors

Thursday Doors Kedleston Hall

“My name is George Nathaniel Curzon, I am a most superior person.”

This magnificent pile was constructed in the mid 18th Century on lands owned by the  Curzon family for 500 years. George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, became Viceroy of India in 1899. The Raj Bhavan in Calcutta was inspired by Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire.

Before becoming Governor-General of the British Raj, he described his “mission statement” to pupils at Eton School:

‘The East is a university in which the scholar never takes his degree. It is a temple where the suppliant adores but never catches sight of the object of his devotion… I know that I have everything to learn. I have, perhaps, many things to unlearn.’

He married Mary Leiter (whose father founded the Chicago department store Marshall Field) and took his new wife to India. She found the climate very difficult and her health never really recovered from a febrile illness in 1904. She tragically died at the early age of 36 in 1906. She was famous for her style and dress sense. At the coronation durbar of 1903, she wore a gown designed by the Parisian fashion house, Worth. It looks as though it is made of peacock feathers. With a nod to history, she wore the peacock dress in the Diwan-i-Khas where the Shahjahan’s famous peacock throne was placed. Despite having the precious stones removed, it is absolutely stunning. It is displayed on the ground floor of the hall.


As Viceroy, Curzon was preoccupied with the Great Game to counter Russian influence. He ordered an invasion of Tibet to this end, but no Russians were present to confront in Lhasa.

He is credited with improving the administration of India, its civil service, education and police force. Unfortunately, this did not help to ameliorate the effects of a massive famine which killed more than a million in 1900.

Jawaharlal Nehru praised Curzon’s genuine love of Indian culture, which involved renovating several historic monuments, including the Taj Mahal and the Sidi Syed Mosque in Ahmedabad.

“After every other viceroy has been forgotten, Curzon will be remembered because he restored all that was beautiful in India.”

At the instigation of his wife, Curzon also set aside 57,000 acres of forest and jungle in Kaziranga, home to the one-horned rhinoceros, as a game reserve. He still shot tigers, however. His reforms stalled and he resigned in 1905. Treasures which Curzon brought back from the subcontinent are displayed on the ground floor.

He was less enlightened when it came to the issue of universal suffrage. He bitterly opposed giving the vote to women. Some say that this attitude was formed in childhood. His tyrannical governess beat him regularly and would humiliate him by making him wear a dunce’s cap in the village. He felt that women should remain maternal and not take part in governing the country. However, he also maintained that women were “vital to the betterment and development of society and crucial to maintaining the British Empire.”



The magnificent Curzon residence has many beautiful doors. The workmanship is outstanding, with one mahogany door in the ante-room curved to fit perfectly in the curved wall. Most of the doors have no external hinge; there is a metal rod running the length of the door about which it pivots.



Look, no hinges!



The door knobs are decorated and intricate.


Two keyholes for extra security


A door in the servants’ quarters. I love the quizzical expression on the face of Lady Curzon, Vicereine of India.

The house so incredibly beautiful and ornate that I have to add a few portal photos to demonstrate this.


This magnificent room is on the first floor. The alabaster pillars were originally plain, but an army of stonemasons was put to work creating the fluting or grooved appearance, which was more fashionable. The marble flooring began to sag within 7 years of being built, so cast iron pillars (disguised with stone facing) were brought in to support the weight.
Double doors of the Pantheon





Suits you, sir

Thanks to CNN, Kenya National Television screened the wedding of HRH Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. I was familiar with Ms Markle from her appearance in the television serial “Suits”, about a law firm in New York City.

Strangely enough, the very morning of the wedding, I had been attracted to a street where there were several tailoring shops. I stopped to chat at “Ngai’s Quick Fashionable Tailors & Outfitters”. Hanging on the folding door of the shop, there was a natty faux-Burberry checked jacket, with black lapels and facings, which caught my eye.

There was no front window, just a display cabinet, holding some zinc buckets and white sheeting. On top of the cabinet, a cutter was chalking out the measurements for a jacket on some pinstriped grey woollen cloth.


The cutter kept working while I asked him questions. He said the jackets were in the “American style”, whatever that meant. There was a row of them hung onto the wall on one side of the shop, with a selection of cloth displayed on the opposite side.

Further back into the shop, his partner sewed the pieces of material into suits using an ancient treadle Singer sewing machine. A lady in the rear of the shop took the money.

The cloth came from Germany. I felt the need to rub it between my fingers and thumb and discovered that there were four layers. The cutter explained that the customer had requested two suits in different materials, each in two layers – right and left sides. As he used sharp, heavy shears to cut around the lapels, the material began to bunch up. I put a hand on the cloth to keep it steady, but he waved it away.

Other shops catered for a more modern style, drainpipe trousers, shorter jackets (“bum freezers”) and narrower lapels. Some of these designs are shown on the billboard for E. Njue’s Tailoring. These images reminded me of the photographs of celebrities sporting fashionable hairstyles stuck onto the walls of barbershops everywhere. Aspirational targets, perhaps. My overseas haircuts never resemble those of David Beckham or Brad Pitt. And you just know that these suits are never going to look like the billboard.


There are other tailors in town, some specialising in school uniforms and wedding attire.


At his wedding, HRH Prince Harry wore a frock coat dress uniform of the Blues and Royals Regiment so he would not have needed the services of the Jaflo Clothing Centre in Embu.

And no, I don’t have a clue what “Hemasod” means.



Not an assembly line

There’s no import tax to pay on motorcycles under 250cc, that’s why there are so many of them. The motorcycles arrive from China in bits. The larger components (frames, fuel tank and wheels) are packed into cheap plywood boxes, edged with metal protective strips. Other smaller pieces arrive in cardboard boxes.

When I pass the shop, there are usually a couple of men putting the bikes together. Although they may share the same bench, they assemble individual machines. Not exactly bespoke, but made by hand. One experienced worker told me that it just takes a couple of hours. He doesn’t need to refer to the instructions anymore.


The bikes are not that complicated. The electrical connections just snap together. I looked at the accompanying plastic package of nuts, bolts, washers and bits, and asked him if he ever finished a bike and there were some bits left over. He just smiled at me.


The finished article


Thursday Doors

Thursday Doors Calke Abbey

Calke Abbey was never an abbey. It was an Augustinian priory founded in 1131, before being converted into a stately home in the rolling hills of southern Derbyshire 500 years later. The Harpur-Crewe family owned it until 1985 when it was sold to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. The family died out shortly afterwards, with no living heirs. The stately pile was also on the decline. Rather than spending millions on renovating the place, the National Trust decided to stop the rot by fixing the roof, but allowed “time to stand still”. The wallpaper is peeling off some of the walls. Dozens of glass cases full of stuffed animals and geological specimens are crammed into spare rooms. The heated Orangery which once supplied fruit and vegetables in winter is now dilapidated.

But there are plenty of interesting doors.


The Orangery

The estate bought 350,000 bricks to make outbuildings and walled gardens. These cost less than the lady of house’s annual dress allowance.



Inside the house, some of the doors are covered in red baize, which was supposed to deaden the noise.


Some of the doors were made of mahogany and beautifully carved. Other doors to less important areas of the house have been painted to look like walnut or other exotic wood. Now the paint is chipping off.


At the bottom of the back stairs




Motorcycle Taxis

Kenyans call motorcycle taxis “boda-boda”. They are ubiquitous; they reach the parts of the country other vehicles cannot reach. Out in the bundu, visiting a remote health centre, I saw a petrol station with a lone pump, miles from the nearest decent road – of course, it caters to the “boda-boda”.


By the market and shops, there are always knots of riders looking for fares. The driver will help you to carry your purchases back home, even if it is a bed frame and mattress.


All the riders are males. They see me as a possible fare, so I get approached frequently. If they see I have my camera, they usually want me to take their photograph. Some are real posers.



To protect them from the wind, some riders fit a fairing made from rubber flooring material. It is custom-made, cut to fit the bike. The one above cost £2.



They carry furled umbrellas across the handlebars during the rainy season. When the rain starts, they hoist the umbrella which is specially elongated to cover the pillion passenger.



I learned that the word “boda-boda” comes from a time when motorcycles were used to cross national borders using rough dirt roads, bypassing the official border crossings.


Walking to work

Thunder and lightning seemed to continue for hours in the night. But in the morning, there was a beautiful pale blue sky. I have taken to walking to work. My job is sedentary so having a brisk 25-minute walk to the office is good exercise.

The first part of the journey is a muddy track, rutted and eroded by the rain. It has been graded in the past, with a marked camber. I try to walk down the middle but when a vehicle wishes to pass, I have to slither down to the edge of the road. I’m really glad I brought some tough leather walking boots; I have worn them almost every day.

Just by the corner of the district hospital, I saw a man delivering milk from a bicycle. He had a churn strapped on to the rear carrier, with two plastic measuring jugs hanging at either side.


As I walked past a newspaper vendor, a headline caught my eye: “Witches eat the Dead” was the banner headline on the front of the Sunday paper, “The Nairobian”. No time to browse, however. Apparently, there was a butcher’s shop in Nairobi which was selling human flesh. The police allegedly found human skulls in a pile of bones.

There was a nasty smell of burning rubber and plastic coming from a matatu pulled over at the side of the road. It had come down the steep hill just outside town and I guess that the brakes had jammed on. Clouds of grey smoke billowed from the rear onside wheel.

Other matatus buzzed past me. I need to spend a few hours sitting by the roadside taking photographs of them. One had a decent portrait of President Donald J Trump on the side. Another had a faded image of former President Robert Mugabe. Politicians are less popular than rap stars, however.

Ladies selling fruit were arranging individual bananas and oranges into piles of equal value. They waved me over to consider buying, but I told them I’d just eaten my breakfast. “Take these for your lunch, then,” she replied.

The overnight rain had made the earth at the edge of the path damp and muddy. As a result, a small beggar girl with paralysed legs had moved her pitch from a raised mound in the verge to the middle of the pavement. Beggars often put some coins in a mug which they shake, making a noise to attract bypassers. She didn’t have any coins, just a plastic bottle top in the tin pot. How different from the knots of chuggers, trying to make eye contact with you while earnestly jiggling their coin boxes outside shops in central Leicester.

One man had some decent-looking papayas and avocados in a chicken-wire cage. Only he could access the fruit from the rear. They were priced individually and came with a suggestion of when they would be best to eat. I pointed at a cannonball-sized papaya which he told me would be ready in two days. It cost me 50 pence. He wrapped it in an old newspaper because “it has just come from the shamba” and he didn’t want it to dirty my shirt. It was a shame he hadn’t used the front page of “The Nairobian”.

When I got to the office, I looked down at the bottom of my trousers. They were smeared with mud. Now I know why the old men tuck the bottom of their trousers into their socks.

Bangladesh Medical Thursday Doors

Thursday Doors – outbreak at the clinic

It was Friday, 20th October 2017. My day off. But we were too busy dealing with complicated patients, so I felt I had to go to the clinic to help. Here is a photograph of the open door of the clinic taken looking out at the refugee camp. It looks tranquil.


It needs a lot of skill to carry a load of long bamboo poles from the road into the heart of Kutupalong Balukhali refugee camp.


It began with a young boy who came into the clinic complaining of pain in his neck. He had spasm in the sternocleidomastoid muscle, which runs from behind the ear to the end of the collarbone close to the breastbone. This is called “spasmodic torticollis” or “cervical dystonia”. It is quite rare and doesn’t often happen to children. As we have no specific treatment available and the symptoms were mild, I thought no more of it, until later in the day. Two brothers arrived at the clinic with more significant, painful, involuntary contractions of muscles in the neck. The father said that they had taken some medication which was in a pack of food items distributed in the camp. The medication was called Halop.

Halo is a water purification tablet commonly used in Bangladesh. I can understand that some well-meaning philanthropist felt there was a need for the refugees to sterilise water. But there were no instruction leaflets to show how to do it. But this wasn’t Halo, it was Halop.

Halop is actually haloperidol, a potent antipsychotic drug. The family showed us a foil strip of ten 5mg tablets, with two missing.

“We thought it was to treat coughs and colds,” said the father. “I gave one tablet to each of my sons last night and look what has happened to them.”

In my entire medical career, I have never prescribed haloperidol for a child. The initial dose for an adult is 0.5 to 1.5mg daily. The two brothers had taken 5mg, roughly ten times this. The drug blocks D2 dopamine receptors, to reduce psychotic thoughts. However, it also acts on the part of the brain which controls movement and muscular tone, the extrapyramidal system.

These three children were the first of many to come to the clinic with acute dystonic reactions. Their necks were contorted, forcing their heads backwards or to one side. In extreme cases, the eyeballs roll back into their sockets, a condition called “oculogyric crisis”. We didn’t see this, but we did notice many children staring upwards and to one side. Examining the children’s limbs revealed increased tone. On moving the arms and hands, I could feel jerky resistance, so-called “cogwheel rigidity”.

At first, I thought that this was an isolated occurrence, but by the end of the first day, we had admitted eight patients who were so stiff and rigid that they could not eat or drink. One poor chap had taken two tablets; he couldn’t retract his tongue which was sticking out of his mouth. We realised this was an outbreak of poisoning.


We tracked down where the food supplies had been distributed and the outreach team spread out through the camp, telling families not to take the yellow tablets in the packs. We contacted the block leaders and imams, asking them to pass on this information. The following day, we distributed colour photocopied pictures of the drugs, warning people to hand them in. We managed to purchase some “antidote” from the nearest town, to give to the patients who were worst affected.

The outreach workers collected over two thousand tablets from the community. We reported the incident through the official channels. A few days later, doctors from the Ministry of Health and WHO visited the clinic to confirm what we had discovered. I assume that they worked out how this had happened, who had supplied the medication and took the necessary action to prevent it from happening again.

It was fortunate that we were able to recognise this problem quickly and take appropriate measures to manage the situation to prevent further harm. All our patients recovered completely after a few days.




Many people in Embu like eating pork. There is a side street in town where half the shops are pork butchers or restaurants specialising in pork dishes, mainly barbecued or roasted pork. You can even get pork and mash. I can satisfy my yearning for a bacon sandwich any time I want.


Sunday Walk in Embu (final part)

Muthigiiri is an interesting place, but no one in Embu has ever heard of it.


Enter a caption
Unsuspecting sheep, grazing where they are likely to end up


I set off south, towards the forest, past more ramshackle shops, selling petrol, chips, offering repairs and finally, the slaughterhouse. The road was a series of muddy ponds, and to avoid these I had to walk through peoples’ gardens. There were fewer motorbikes on this stretch. One had “Pathfinder” written on the rear mudflap. I followed him, through fields of head-high maize.


I saw a bird of prey perched on the branch of a tree ahead. I managed to get some great photos with my fancy zoom lens of the African Hawk Eagle. After it flew off I realised two men had been staring at me, wondering what I was doing. They were sharing out a bushel of fresh tomatoes. They warned me that there were many monkeys in the forest. I thought I’d better eat my last apple in case it attracted them. The lads wanted me to swap the apple for tomatoes, but I refused.


As I entered the forest, I had a nagging thought, “What if there were other animals in the forest which could do me harm?” But I dismissed it and concentrated on trying to visualise the half dozen birds that were tweeting away around me.


In the shade, the air was cool, but at open glades where there was no tree cover, the air was thick, humid and hot. There was no breeze to stir it all up. It was rather magical. There was a fragrant smell from conifers, which were the bulk of the trees. I scanned the curtain of greenery, searching for monkeys, but found none.

A trio of men was talking furtively in low voices as I approached. I heard one say “Muzungu” so I knew I’d been spotted. I greeted them all and asked what they were doing. “Digging for medicinal herbs and roots,” said their leader, showing me a clutch of thin, orange rhizomes. “Is this good medicine?” I asked. “It gives men back their power,” he replied. I thought of asking what kind of power but he then gave a gesture which confirmed my suspicion. He asked me if I needed it, but I said I’d be in touch if the Viagra stopped working.


To the east of the track, I could see some farm buildings and Archbishop Gitari Boarding School. The path had turned into a rivulet, snaking from side to side. I tried to make a dam and divert the flow into the verge but thought that there might be a reason why it was flowing like this. So I stopped being a little boy and walked on.

I saw several trees which had coffin-shaped boxed hanging from high branches. I thought that they could be beehives, but I couldn’t see bees flying in. Mysterious. What do you think?


I reached a graded murram road and left the forest behind. Motorcycles were swarming around me, asking where I was going. I decided to wave at all of them, and this seemed to ease their curiosity somewhat. A church service was just ending across the road and a man with an impressive rooster came out of the gate. He held it up for me to see, clutching it at the base of both wings, and offered to sell it to me for £5. I must be getting more Africanised because for a moment, I considered buying it. Not as a pet, but to eat, of course.

The shops were more sophisticated here. The Gilead Lifestyle Center (the balm of Gilead was a powerful ointment, “to make the wounded whole”) offered an impressive array of services, including “Complete health and Restoration”.


I looked up the strange choice of Jeremiah 46:11 when I got home and it was therapeutic nihilism:

Go up into Gilead, and take balm, O virgin, the daughter of Egypt: in vain shalt thou use many medicines; for thou shalt not be cured.

The list of diseases treated included diabetes, cancer, fibroids, asthma, haemorrhoid (sic), high blood pressure, kidney problems, ulcers, asthma, stroke and no doubt several others. This overlaps with the management of chronic, non-communicable diseases which is the focus of my work in rural health centres in Kenya. I might have an open mind, but I doubt we will be collaborating with this healer.

I was exhausted when I reached the tarmac road, the Embu-Nairobi Highway. I had no choice but to walk at the side of the road. Speed bumps extended to the edge of the road (to avoid motorcycles cutting inside to avoid them). I was tired and I kept tripping up over the bumps. Some boys on a hill across the road thought this was hilarious. I crossed the Rupingazi River using the pedestrian bridge. It was even more uneven than the road.

Consulting Google maps, I saw a shortcut, up a muddy slope into Embu Town. I struggled past the Daniel Arap Moi Stadium (where they play more sevens rugby than football) and bought another litre of water at the supermarket. I was sitting on a wall, guzzling the tepid water when I noticed a familiar smell, that of spirit alcohol. Someone had dropped a bag containing a bottle of cane spirit as they had left the supermarket. A lady was cleaning up the broken glass, but the security guard gave me a stern look as he came to investigate. “Not me, guv, I’m innocent, a teetotaller in Kenya,” I said.

I took the shortcut back to our house along shady unmade roads, where there are more birds. I saw a spectacled weave in a tree and stopped. Two drunken young men staggered past and asked what I was doing. I pointed out the bird and he said, “No, that’s an avocado tree.” Actually, it was a mango tree.

It was 3:45pm when I reached home, totally shattered. I’d only walked about 20km but Embu is at 1,350m above sea level. This was altitude training, not a gentle stroll.

I stripped off, showered and collapsed on my bed to recover with a cup of tea. I thought, what lessons had I learned today?

Although Google Maps are good, they are not infallible. Local Kenyan villagers can’t read maps. Why should they need to? They live here and know their way about. One thought the line demarcating Embu and Kirinyaga counties was a road. There was a gap shown down the middle of the forest which no one could explain. Everyone was very confident about giving directions and advice, despite it being wrong at least half the time.

But Kenya remains a fascinating and beautiful place.


Sunday Walk in Embu (part 2)


Rupingazi River overflowing its banks


I crossed the torrent of the Rupingazi River on a road bridge and saw two well-dressed ladies in their Sunday best, leave the road and climb into the forest. I speeded up and called to them. “Was this a shortcut to the forest road?” They reassured me that it was. I asked them if they could show me the way and they concurred.

One of the ladies was wearing red, high-heeled shoes. Not very appropriate for walking down a muddy path, through partially cultivated bush and coffee plantations. When I pointed this out, they just laughed and said this was a good path, easy to walk. They reached their church and told me to turn south.


After a few hundred yards I came across Camp Ndunda Falls. “Keep your negative thoughts away from this refuge,” proclaimed a sign. Two ladies were sitting in the shade outside a wooden building. A sign said, “No WiFi, so stop looking at your phone and talk to each other.” I asked what happened at the Camp and they said there was a £2.50 admission charge, for a picnic area, a nature trail,  a visit to the waterfall and a take-your-life-in-your-hands zip line. I asked if they had a map or a brochure, but the office door was locked. They looked at each other and didn’t know what to do.

“How do I get to the forest?” I asked. I showed them the map on my phone, but they hadn’t a clue.

“You should go back the way you came.”

Really? Eventually, probably to shut me up, one of the ladies pointed me to a track outside the fence leading westwards.


Never trust a woman who wears a dress which looks like it ought to be seen with 3D spectacles


“This will get me to the road?”


“Are you sure?”


I asked about how to cross a stream which was shown on the map, but she said, “You just cross.”

I walked about half a mile through beautiful countryside on the edge of the forest until I came to a fast flowing stream. I would have tried to ford it, but there was no path on the other side. My path turned north but was partly flooded by the stream, so I abseiled horizontally, hanging off a barbed wire fence, to reach the path as it reappeared.


OK, it doesn’t look much here, but it was more impressive in real life



This is a coffee bush, showing green and red berries


It was pleasant walking through dappled sunlight beside a coffee plantation, even though I was going the wrong way. Up ahead, I heard voices. Three men and a dog were sitting around the remains of a fire. They were making charcoal. A long thin sack would sell for £200 in Nairobi, they said. I wondered if they were doing this legally, so I didn’t linger.


“Is there a bridge across the stream?” “No, you must go to the road.”

“The path to the road?” “Just go straight.”

After a hundred yards, there was a T junction. I chose to turn right, up the hill away from the stream. At the top of the hill, there was a small homestead with a cow in a byre, a small boy with a large rake trying to do some gardening and his mother, who was washing clothes in a tin tub. The mother stopped scrubbing, greeted me warmly and offered to show me the real path to the road. Her son stared, open-mouthed. I wondered if he had ever seen a muzungu before.

She led me to another house where an old lady was cutting greens using a knife with no handle. Without thinking, she thrust out her knife-holding hand to shake mine. I pretended to be frightened and she burst into gales of laughter. Part of her left nostril had disappeared. People don’t have nose rings here, so I thought her nostril must have been damaged in an accident or by infection.

When I reached the road, there was a thin, old man in a suit with a trilby hat, looking down at his shoes. I immediately thought that he was wondering what to do about his wet shoes after fording the river. As I approached, he awoke from his reverie, saw me and set off up the hill at a pace.


I didn’t have to ford the river as there was a bridge with a weir. Some lads were washing the mud off their motorbikes and they waved in greeting. I ate an apple and they gestured that they wanted one, too. I politely declined and strode up the next hill towards the boundary between Embu and Kirinyaga counties.

A matatu stopped beside me as I consulted my phone map. “Where are you going? Why are you walking?” asked the driver. I told him I was going to Muthigiiri and he said I was on the right road. He said he wasn’t fooled by my amazing cartographic skills. “I know you have GPS.”

Another lad caught me up and settled in to walk beside me for a while. He said he had recently finished a degree in management and was now looking for a job. People often think muzungus can help them with employment. He told me that his family was poor, and his older siblings didn’t have jobs either. I commiserated. He said he had left his wallet in the house and needed to retrieve it. We joked about whether it would be empty when he found it.

In Muthigiiri, half a dozen men were sitting in the shade at the roadside. Despite being packed full, a matatu was waiting for more passengers before departing. There was a goat tethered at the side. It couldn’t go onto the roof – that was already packed with luggage. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Children here were much more frightened of me than in Embu. They kept on coming closer and then running away when I reacted. The church service was playing some funky music, so I gave the children a treat by doing a “dad dance”. They laughed.  I decided to extend my repertoire and started to throw some Kenyan dance shapes. Even though I have learned some fancy moves from the twenty-seven religious channels on our TV, the children became more concerned and ran off.

Obviously, I am crazy and to be avoided at all costs.