Archive for April, 2007

The pitfalls of trying to be a hip mum

April 22, 2007

Amelia is listening to music on MTV. Whilst doing homework. She’s a female; she’s practicing at multi-tasking.

I hear a song I think I recognize. And – even rarer – one I like (Amelia and I don’t share a taste in music). I ask her to put it up so that I can hear it in the kitchen where I am making mango ice-cream with Hattie because my conscience got the better of me. (Please don’t be impressed by mango ice-cream: you blend mango pulp, cream and icing sugar to taste. Handy when you have manky mango at bottom of fridge that everybody refused to eat for breakfast. I didn’t taste the cream in case it was disappointingly sour – sell by dates are misleading here). I digress.

Prompted by smug glow that I like a song Amelia – my trendy 13 year old – is listening to (does this mean she’ll regard me less as old bag and more boho?) I approach to enquire who it is.

‘Mum’, she says with a resigned sigh, ‘they’re showcasing really, really old stuff today, how would I know who this is’.

It’s a hypothetical question; I can tell by the tone.

I want to tell her she needs to be thankful that – despite living in Africa – I do at least know that shoulder pads and Ra Ra skirts are out.

I could be a lot more embarrassing than I already am.

What’s for lunch?

April 22, 2007

Hattie has just asked me what’s for lunch.

I said nothing.

No. Not nothing. ‘Nothing’.

If we lived somewhere sensible, where there was a support group for the children of errant mothers, Hat may make an incriminating phone call.

As it is she will do as she learned to do years ago: forage.

Selling up and adding up

April 22, 2007

Today a man called Johnny came to buy our trailer. Because we’re packing up to go – eventually. When I can get my head around it. I find packing a lunch taxing, packing a 40 ft container will probably put me in therapy.

Anyway. Johnny came and paid his money and took the trailer away and I felt inexplicably sad. We have never used it. Other than when we moved from Dar es Salaam, on the coast to here, Arusha, 16 years ago. It had a cot in it then, for Ben. Who was still in my tummy. I don’t know why I felt sad. End of an era I suppose.

The move inevitably means advising those that need to know of change of postal address – the few that still send stuff in the mail. Like the bank. Though frankly I’d rather not get letters from them. And the subscriptions office at The Spectator and The Week. And I would be very disappointed not to get those. The Week because it means I can be reasonably well informed without reading a newspaper that makes my arms ache just to hold it up. And the Spectator because I hope that people will think I’m cleverer than I am if they see it lying around the house; they won’t know that all I read are Deborah Ross’s restaurant reviews. Not because I’m ever going to get to London to eat, of course, but because she makes me laugh.

When I have finished selling trailers and writing to the bank, I must begin work on a couple of commissions, one is a story about aging and insomnia at which juncture I’d like to point out that despite an insomnia tag I’m not OLD. Infact I slept for 9 1/2 hours on Friday night.

The other is about homeschool.

Where we’re headed (once I’m out of therapy and over the packing), the children will have to – horrors, oh horrors – board. I gave them the option of homeschool, except Hattie, she’ll do as she’s told and stay home and do school with me because I’ve said so and because I can’t bear to lose all my babies to an institution in one fell swoop. But the big kids reacted to idea of me as teacher in same way as I reacted to imminent boarding. And then I heard them confiding to one another that Mum couldn’t even add up so how was she going to teach IGCSE Maths which I thought was bloody rude frankly. And quite disloyal.

Why my children make me laugh

April 21, 2007

Hattie and I return from walking the dogs. They are soaking wet, having plunged into the dam en route home. I’m not normally houseproud but I hate wet dogs inside because they drip on concrete floors, I slip and fall on my arse and then I swear. So they have to stay outside until they’ve dried off a bit. They peer in from the verandah where they sit, in a puddle, looking suicidal.

‘Can I let them in?’ asks Hat, ‘they look so sad’.

‘No’, I say, ‘not until they’ve dried off a bit, they’re soaking’.

Hat ponders for a minute, gazing sadly at dogs outside, who look sadly back at her.

‘They’re not wet’, she says after a bit, ‘they’re moist’.

Hat, honey, cakes are moist (except mine, of course). Not dogs.

But I let her herd them in all the same.


Ben and I are watching telly. There’s a dinner party scene, the table is set with glowing candles.

‘Have they got a power cut?’, asks Ben.

I reflect that when Ben has a girlfriend, he’ll dismiss candles as reminiscent of his dark childhood and instead opt for glaring fluorescent.


There’s a book in the fruit bowl (in lieu of fruit – it is my house after all).

It’s called ‘Living with a Willy’.

It’s educational; my mother sent it to Ben to make up for the birds-and-bees conversation his father won’t have with him.

Whose reading that, a horrified Hat wants to know.

Ben, I say.

Ben hotly denies it.

Ben – I remind him – look around you: me, your two sisters, two dogs and two cats – what do you have that none of us do.

Right. A willy. Now put the book away.

Talk to my lawyer

April 21, 2007

Kind friends articulate concern for me.

They are anxious that I am living on this farm – which is being torn apart by looters where it hasn’t already fallen apart – on my own with the children.

I try to reassure them, ‘Really, I’m fine’, I say, (if you discount washing machine hiccup and row with son which made me cry).

‘But if you’re not, I mean if something were to happen, you would just come, wouldn’t you’, they persist worriedly.

What? In the middle of the night. With three children (two of them bigger than me and likely bigger than potential hostess); two dogs, two cats (that hate each, something they are hissily vociferous about) and three geese. No. I don’t think that no matter how very well-meant such invitations are, I don’t think anybody – with possible exception of absent, distant husband – wants to see me and menagerie in the middle of the night.

Which is why I want to reassure them all. I’m ok, really, I am.

I’m not sure what they’re worried about. My only concern is that ex employers might try to turf kids and I (and dogs, cats, geese) out of this house.

Which would be unfair given that they owe us a fortune in unpaid salary.

I am, therefore, consulting with a lawyer. It seemed prudent.

Edward was the lawyer who represented Anthony in recent case. So he seemed as good a place as any to start. Given that no lawyer is trustworthy, no matter where they practice. (consider all that ‘shake a lawyer by the hand and count your fingers’ stuff). He is young, hungry and very, very expensive. But on a Friday afternoon, as it was then, you’ll take what you can get to keep your husband out of the clink. That meant Edward. Who means to be a high roller judging by his fee.

So last week I went to see Edward again. I think he was rather hoping he’d seen the last of us. I think he sensed – by the looks on our faces when he told us what he was charging/by state of my car/age of my phone – that we didn’t have the cash to bank roll his rising career. No matter. I went anyway, largely because I was so incensed at press coverage and wanted his advice.

Before I sat down I reminded him this was a ‘courtesy call’, lest he whack me with another $2,000 bill like last time. But then cannily (and it was canny, outwitting a lawyer is no mean feat) I brought up my various grievances against ex employers: fact we haven’t been paid and are owed enough to put a down-payment on a house; fact that – as a result of their foul play – my husband’s name has been dragged through the mud; fact that my children had to witness their dad being hauled off by the cops. I could have gone on and on but Edward stopped me and told that at some point I needed to learn to move on.

Move on! Move on?

But that’s precisely the point, I thought as I slunk off feeling frustrated. I’m not prepared to move on. Not yet. Not when we don’t have a home to go to. No. I can’t do that.

So I rang Edward later and told him to please consider my position again. And I’d consider finding the necessary towards a deposit for his fee.

He has agreed. Which means that if ex employers get nasty I can retort with a pleasing, ‘Talk to my lawyer’.

Meantime, I promise you, we’re OK.

Looking on the Bright Side …

April 21, 2007

In the eight days for which I have been a single parent, considering husband’s absence, my admiration for all those people who raise children on their own – for a lot longer than I am going to be forced to do so –has soared.

I never considered how hard it might be to do this by myself for a week. Or a month. Or six. Or whatever it turns out to be.

I didn’t consider how difficult it would be at times to discipline, or even exert any kind of control, over two teens. Especially since they are both bigger than me. And I didn’t consider how hard it might be to sustain the energy required to do so ad infinitum.

I have just had a row with my fifteen year old son who has told me not to be childish.

And now I feel like crying. Which – I concede – would be childish.

So I have abandoned breakfast to write instead.


Not that I was able to write for long before called to a catastrope unfolding in the kitchen; the washing machine was overflowing and flooding the house.

All my attempts to identify where the problem was failed despite taking as much as I could of the wretched thing apart with a butter knife, sitting in a puddle on the floor craning my neck into the drum and trying really hard not to cry.

Eventually I had to prise cross son from bedroom and beg his help. He took one look and said, ‘there’s a big hole in the seal’. He’s right; there is . I couldn’t see it. Because sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees. Or holes-in-seals for breakfast time tears. I can’t call a plumber because there isn’t one. So I shall have to identify a friend with a silicone gun and repair the hole myself. In the meantime my children will continue to go through the numerous outfits they do every day so that by mid next week the laundry basket will be regurgitating stinky clothes all over the bathroom floor.

At that point husband called to ask how morning was.

Wobbly, I said, and burst into tears all over again.

Last night as I lay in my bath I noticed that the bottoms of the bathroom curtains had been burnt – by the candles we often use in there. Not because we’re all New Age and hippy or because we enjoy romantic bubble baths by candlelight in manner of models in glossy magazines, but because we frequently don’t have lights and needs must when bathing so that I can see how clean my feet are before I get out. I pondered in some irritation on this but only for a minute, at least, I thought, we haven’t burned the house down.

I think that’s the key to life here: count your blessings: your washing machine is kaput, your darling son is furious with you, your husband -the one whose name you’ve been battling to clear – may as well be a million miles away, but at least the house is still standing.

Last light

April 20, 2007

End of the day in Africa is always best.

The light is so soft, the sun angled so that the worst of the heat is filtered out and the light changes from white hot to a pale gold which ignites the tops of all the trees in the garden, the cassia are especially magnificent then, their candles of yellow flowers on fire. The sky is rinsed pale blue after last night’s rain; there won’t be any tonight, no clouds bruising our horizon this evening, just friendly pink puffs.

 Yup, evenings best. And means I can have a beer.

Sign of the Times?

April 20, 2007

I am writing in the internet cafe I frequent in town (because power at home so unreliable).

Beside me, checking his emails, is a Masai complete with characteristic attire of red ‘shuka’, million-mile tyre sandals, alot of beads and earlobes pierced with something weighty when he was young so that that now they almost reach his shoulders.

Despite being – apparently – proficient in technology know-how, he is lacking a hankie.  And has an appalling cold.

Birthday presents headache

April 20, 2007

Editor at the Arusha Times is charming bespectacled man called William. He isn’t in the least perturbed by my suggestion that his paper has published a false story, ‘we get our facts from the regional police’, he says, ‘and they are often inaccurate’. How comforting. Were I to write a story for any of the editors I have ever worked with and rely on facts from dodgy sources I’d be in deep doodoo. However he is sufficiently intrigued by appearance of mad white woman in his office to assure me there will be a ‘follow up’ and I leave my number in order that he can contact me and verify any facts the police might present regards the farm in the future.

Next on list is a birthday present for a friend of Hattie’s who is going to be ten. I go to the backstreet  ‘duka’ of a friendly Asian man to source this. His shop is a veritable Aladdin’s cave as far as my girls are concerned, stuffed to the gunnels with cheap, garish adornments: hairbands, bracelets and earrings. They love going there.

Mr Mohammed stands to greet me enthusiastically. ‘Long time no see’ he says, which strikes me as oddly Western, and thoroughly modern, way to greet anybody if you’re an Asian gentleman of sixty plus running a shop in the less salbruious quarter of an African town.

You’d think, by his greeting, that I’m in the shop every week but have recently been detained by, amongst other things, the case which editor William covered. But I’m not, I only go in there three times a year when I have run out of excuses as to why my daughters can’t attend a birthday party (and given reliability or otherwise of my car, I don’t have to try hard – on the excuse front, I mean).   No, Mr Mohammed’s greeting has nothing to do with a frequency of visits, rather that I’m probably the only white woman who patronises his business. Largely because I’m generally too broke to buy children’s birthday presents in the trendy European boutiques where most expat mums buy gifts.  But partly because I am less conscious than most of where I’m seen.

The upside, of which, of course is that my daughter’s present will be unique: nobody else will give the birthday girl quite such cheap, garish crap. And consequently, since that’s what little girls like most of all, nobody else’s present will be as popular as Hattie’s.


Sue for libel …? I don’t think so.

April 20, 2007

This morning I have a meeting with the editor of the Arusha Times. Not in my capacity as journalist: I am reliably informed that as a freelancer for the local press once cannot expect to be paid. Instead one must buy space for copy from the paper much in the same way as one would buy advertising space.

No. I’m not going to see him because I want to write for him but because this week his paper carries a damning story about my husband which pertains to the court cases we endured two weeks ago. Editors here are not, apparently, as hot as they are in the UK regards timely news pegged pieces.

I have heard that the Arusha Times is anxious to present the facts in any of their stories accurately, which must make them unusual in the industry, so I am going to plead to the editor’s integrity and point out to him that the several facts he got wrong, very wrong, in his story about Anthony means that my husband comes across as the villian he is not.

Were I Victoria Beckham and the Mail had run a similar story on David I could sue for libel and claim millions.

Alas, for a paper that expects freelancers to buy copy space I wouldn’t get a bean, so such an effort would be futile. I shall simply – and politely – indicate that his journalist got her facts wrong.

The power has been off for several hours until just now.

Needless to say I filed a report with my friend Mr Dominic.

He told me that the power cut was the result of heavy rainfall last night.

I’m confused. During the rains the power is cut because of storms. During times of drought it’s also cut, because there’s not enough rain to fill the dams of national hydro-electric schemes.