In the final days before we leave England and return home to Africa, there is a flurry of activity. Suddenly it seems important to make all the telephone calls I’ve meant to make for weeks and haven’t got around to. And suddenly it becomes imperative to find all the stray socks and shoes and books that need packing. Such assembling of personal effects brings me to near nervous breakdown: how did we accumulate so much? How will it all fit in? How will I avoid the crippling charges for excess baggage? I can’t think how. So I go shopping, again, to take my mind off all the excess I’ve garnered in recent weeks and to purchase something to make me feel calmer. I gather an armful of natural remedies in Holland and Barratt, all claiming to calm (Kalm?) nerves and bestow feelings of reassurance and composure in times of stress. I tip it all out onto the cashier’s desk, ‘Which one really works?’ I ask, ‘I’m a bit frazzled’. She looks a bit taken aback and quickly indicates which is meant to work best. Whether it does or not I have no clue, I suspects she just wants me out of her shop quite quickly. I leave armed with an aerosol of Rescue Remedy which I keep squirting onto my tongue for the duration of the shopping expedition which embarrasses my kids but renders me so chilled (placebo or not, it didn’t matter) that I agree to all their demands and now have even more to pack than I did when I got up this morning.
It’s been a busy week. I have enjoyed a visit from an old friend, she came up from London where she has lived since she and I moved there, from Africa, to flatshare, more than twenty years ago. She stayed; I took fright and left four years into our adventure. We were at school together from the age of six. Our flat-sharing began in salubrious style – a serviced apartment on Upper Brook Street, near Park Lane, because the uncle, who had kindly lent us his top floor to doss on, had a beautiful girlfriend who tired of two silly Kenya girls who couldn’t cook and kept getting under her feet. She chucked us out, but had the sense to throw us into a different kind of comfort zone (she didn’t want us but was keen to keep the uncle). It was all downhill after that; we moved further south and west. Happy days though.
We joined a club. I presume because that’s what we thought we ought to do (good colonial spawn that we were). My friend, more savvy than I, sought out the Landsdowne in Berkley Square and arranged that we both be interviewed by the Club Secretary. We fibbed through our teeth, pretending to be far grander colonials than we really were (more Finch-Hatton than farmer’s daughter); it worked, we got in for free on account of the membership to the country club we said our parents were members of (they weren’t). And we spent many evenings swimming laps in a gloriously old fashioned and deliciously empty pool overlooked by fellow members fencing, then we wrapped in fluffy white towels, took hot showers and all for less than a pound. My friend reminded me how important such friendships are, even when stretched to near breaking point by the years and geography and – at times – wildly different circumstances. It was good to see her.
And then the children and I Did London, for it seemed important to expose them to something at opposite ends of the Outpost spectrum. We visited the Dungeons and screamed dutifully; we took out a mortgage and ate lunch in a trendy sandwich bar; I subjected them to the Tate Modern and then rewarded them with a ride on a river taxi to Tower Hill. Later we joined Mum, in London for a school reunion that day (reunions must have been in the air this week?) and ate tea near Westminster before walking through St James to see Buckingham Palace. ‘Is the queen really in?’ Hattie wanted to know, ‘yes’, said her granny, ‘and she’s about to have her first gin and tonic of the day’. We walked our feet off; it was good to get home to a glass of red wine.
The house will fill up this weekend – my sister and her two eldest, an aunt and uncle from Ireland – it’ll be loud with laughter and the sound of feet racing up stairs. The children don’t get the opportunity to link up with family – and certainly not any kind of extended family – often. It’s good for them; it connects them, grounds them. I think it helps to shape an identity that Africa sometimes blurs a little. It places them, reminds them they have people who belong to them.
And then on Monday we fly. London, Nairobi, Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam and the final two hours to the Outpost. It’ll be good to be home. Blurred identities or not.
Back to packing now. But not before another little squirt of Rescue Remedy …