Now I may be a day late, but i wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to shout about my fur babies on National Pet Day. I feel like the luckiest person alive to be Mum to my cats, Charlie and Rosie (collectively known as The Bobs).
They came into my life two years ago when my impulsive boyfriend visited Hassocks pet shop, which always has about 30 cats wondering around the shop, and found two one-week-old kittens in a box in the back of the shop. He reserved them without a second thought, despite only being in the country a couple of months a year because of work, and so it was my luckiest of lucky days. We went and visited them most weeks until they were old enough to take home.
They have a very privileged existence, living in the countryside with more moles and shrews and voles and pheasants than they could have dreamed of, and have been my most wonderful companions when I’ve worked from home. They come on walks with me around the fields (much to the confusion of passing dog walkers) and have inspired a few illustrations as well, of course. There is actually quite an exciting project to be announced soon that is all about our adored little night-monsters. Watch this space.
I’ve grown up with cats my whole life, and I’ll particularly never forget Osc, my original studio cat and childhood friend, who we lost two years ago. He was as tame and docile as they come, and a wonderful little cow-coloured life-model.
Animals really are the greatest gift of all and how lucky are we that we get to share our homes them.
It’s been a couple of weeks since we returned from the most awe-inspiring two weeks in Tanzania (and Zanzibar). Mike and I rendez vous-ed in Zanzibar, after six weeks on different continents, and our first stop was a little tropical island. We had a few days there to sit around on the beach, eat a lot and walk laps of the island. It was literally a desktop screensaver.
To keep us company, were millions of native crabs. There were lots of different types, but our favourites where the (friendly) ghost crabs that looked a little bit see-through and were absolute suckers for carbs, particularly biscuits and bread. We had a resident crab in our hut, named Monsieur Claud, who always turned up for breakfast, and a different companion for dinner who we called Senior Jaq. They were extremely silly and hilarious and looked as though they were constantly trying to back out of a room without being seen.
We spent most of our time playing Uno, snorkling around the island’s coral reefs, swimming with dolphins (that only happened once and they were about 20 feet below us underwater but it still counts) and watching spectacular sunsets. It was a moment of calm that I’ll never forget.
From Zanzibar, we got a tiny little plane to Dar es Salaam where we met my family, and took another little plane down to a northern part of Selous Game Reserve. Selous is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and at 55,000 sq. km is twice the size of Switzerland. It is the largest protected wildlife sanctuary in Africa and is the most pristine wilderness. This place was completely untouched and looked the same as it would have done a million years ago. It was arid and parched and vast and as our tiny plane flew away we suddenly felt pretty alone, hundreds of kilometres from civilisation.
We stayed next to the Selous River at a camp at ‘The Hippo Point’ where we overlooked dozens of hippos. We were sleeping under canvas with them wandering around making an absolute racket and weren’t allowed to leave our ‘tent’ at night in case we bumped into one and were promptly chopped in half.
Each day, we’d go out on game drives in the morning and then again in the later afternoon. On our third day we went out on a 13 hour game drive which was completely epic and exhausting but allowed us to go much further afield and as a result, we saw an extraordinary abundance of wildlife.
We ticked off the ‘Big Five’ pretty quickly and at many points, our guide got out his own camera in excitement, so we knew we were doing well. Highlights included three prides of lions (one with cubs) and two packs of rare wild dogs or ‘painted wolves’, one also with pups and one that we followed to the scene of a dead baby buffalo who the dogs devoured in about 5 minutes.
We also followed hundreds of vultures flying in from miles around, clearly towards a ‘kill’, that turned out to be the newly dead body of a young elephant which was devastating. My brother spotted a leopard in a tree from about a hundred metres away; we saw many families of ‘pumbas’ who ran in a line with dad at the front and mum at the back and babies in the middle. We saw hyenas and rivers with a croc every 3sq. metres, troops of baboons and towers of giraffes, who are called ‘twiga’ in Swahili and affectionately referred to as ‘Miss Tanzania’ for their pompous strut. They also have very small brains and up close were possibly the most unfathomable and prehistoric of all the wildlife we saw.
To end an unreal day, we chased the sunset back to camp with a very authentic, four hour off-road land rover experience, beers in hand/all over the person next to you.
From Selous, we flew across to Ruaha National Park for four days staying at Jongomero Camp. Ruaha felt like a different world as it was incredibly green and lush from the recent rains.
The people we met were the most generous and kind and welcoming in the world. I was particularly in awe of the two Maasai warriors (the camp security) who had spent a full year alone in the bush to achieve their warrior status but who were also Arsenal fans… as ever, the planet seems united by English football.
Once again, we were told not to leave our tents at night because of the resident bull elephant, Bob, and the hippos that regularly crossed through the camp via ‘hippo highway’ on their way to and from the river. On our first evening, after we’d each been escorted to our prospective tents, (Mike and I in one, my brother in the next one and Mum and Dad in the next one) we suddenly heard my brother shouting. Our tents were fairly far apart (maybe 50 metres?) with lots of bush in between, and I freaked out and charged outside to try and hear him better, imagining him face to face with a hippo, whilst Mike searched for the ’emergency horn’. Fortunately, there was no hippo-confrontation; Nicholas’ tent zip had broken and wouldn’t do up… this was better than the alternative but not ideal with all the snakes and spiders etc. Looking back on it, there was quite a funny exchange as Nicholas went from one side of his tent to the other shouting at my parents and then back to us as we tried to decide what to do. Inconveniently, all the frogs for miles around had chosen that evening to perform their mating ritual. It was so loud that none of our emergency horns and whistles drew the attention of the Maasai on duty. So, eventually, Nicholas decided to risk the 50m walk to my parents’ tent and survived to tell the tale.
Our guide, Frank’s favourite animal was an elephant and Ruaha is known for it’s large elephant population. This was the place for me! We had about three elephant ‘experiences’ where the land rover was completely surrounded by elephants and their babies less than two metres away from our open-sided vehicle. We were mock-charged at, a few times, which was elating and terrifying, but Frank understood their behaviour so intricately that he only chuckled on these occasions, knowing they were warnings rather than a full blown attack.
We became quite fond also of the guinea fowl, or bush chickens, who looked like posh cushions, and red-necked spurfowls (lipstick birds), both of whom would regularly take up the challenge of sprinting along in front of the wheels of the land rover. When this happened, one of us would shout ‘We’ve got a runner!!’, and we’d cheer it along until it ran out of steam and veered off to the side into the bush or flew away.
All in all, a triumph of a holiday and such a privilege to spend it with my four favourite people. (Most of these photos were taken by my brother who is quite the wildlife photographer!) You can also watch some little videos on my Instagram ‘Africa stories’.
It seems I’ve taken an extremely long sabbatical from posting on here and I really quite miss a bit of copywriting amidst the painting, angsting and general business-tumult! What has felt like one deadline after another for the entire year has suddenly levelled out into a moment of comparable calm (on the design front anyway). So I thought I’d talk a bit about my inspiration for our newest range WILDERNESS.
Wilderness is something a little different for Louise Mulgrew Designs. I’ve enjoyed painting landscapes for years, but our cards have been very animal focussed up until now as I’ve been reluctant to shoe-horn this landscapey-style of painting (that I do for the love of it) into a commercial range of cards. I was first inspired to paint a landscape (actually a cityscape) in my third year of uni, on an A1 piece of paper masking-taped to my uni-room wall. I’ve delved deep into the archives for a photo of this calamitous disaster and a couple of similar efforts around that time haha: see below.
They did start to get a bit better over time but I think things really started to become comfortable once I kept up practising in my sketchbook when I found myself in a beautiful place.
Since getting back from New Zealand, where I felt I really refined my reportage style (see NZ post below for images), I decided the time was ripe for a wanderlust-y card range, which we launched this summer. There are only 8 designs in the collection so far but I have lots of thoughts for new designs and think this will just be a range that grows as and when I’m inspired.
My favourite designs so far are the most personal. The ‘Adventure Awaits’ camper van design, which was a New Zealand scene and my own dream lifestyle, the ‘Happy Retirement’ card, which is my favourite place on the planet, the view of the downs from our rainbow hammock, the lighthouse ‘thinking of you’, which just makes me feel peaceful and is how I imagine the lighthouse from the book ‘The Light Between Oceans’ to look, and finally the ‘Bon Voyage’ pile of vintage suitcases, which my boyfriend has many of in his music studio.
I’ve been blown away by the response to this style (maybe everyone’s just very relieved to have a break from my animals :o) and am excited to develop a range of prints from the collection as well!