Archive for January, 2008

Bottling Memories

January 31, 2008

We went for a walk yesterday evening, Hat and I; we drove to the plot of land adjacent to husband’s office, a few acres forested with enormous mango trees and overlooking distant kopjes sheathed in green where the dogs can race about, chasing vervet monkeys up trees from where they laugh and tease. Often we see mongoose here, peeping from their burrows in termite mounds. But they’re gone in a trice: the scent of the Labradors has sent them back down to the bowels of the earth from where we hear their indignant scolding: ‘why don’t you bugger off and leave us alone, and take those sodding great beasts with you’.

We have to drive across town before we can walk.

I think I’ll wear my new glasses’, said Hat as she donned a fragile contraption fashioned of chocolate wrappers and tin foil.

She spent our short journey waving and smiling at all the Africans she saw on the shabby little streets of the Outpost. Most waved and smiled back, some looked mildly startled to witness a child sporting psychedelic spectacles gesticulating madly out of the window. Occasionally she experimented with a royal wave:

‘Look mama, this is how the Queen waves’ (how does she know?).

‘Do you think the queen has a mobile phone?’ (where do children’s questions come from?)

She wears her glasses for the entire duration of our walk. Peering down into anthills willing the mongoose to come out. I imagined them staring back up, unseen from their hiding place in dim mud interiors, ‘Good God! What on earth is that?!’ they’d have exclaimed to one another in horror.

‘The grass is much greener when you’re looking on the bright side’, she told me.

That’s got to be a good thing: especially in Africa.

Driving home, the dogs sated, Hat began to recite nursery rhymes. And I joined in, teaching her the mutated versions we learned at school, 

 Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men said,

‘Oh no! Not scrambled egg AGAIN’!

Hat squealed with laughter, ‘that’s so funny Mummy’.

There are moments, little fleeting moments in life, like bubbles: you want to catch them and hang onto them forever, but you know they’ll only pop. I wonder couldn’t we bottle those brief, perfect memories, preserve them forever, like scent. Then, when disillusioned, or sad, or tired, we could uncap their precious contents and allow them perfume our disenchantment away? 

I wanted to bottle yesterday evening.

***********************************

 Hat and I are going away for a few days: Hat to school, proper school, so that she can engage with children her own age, me to have my highlights done.

Granted 500 miles is a long way to travel for a play date and an appointment with your hairdresser, but needs must.

Not least because Hat responded, when I queried what the population of the Outpost might think of a child wearing enormous homemade spectacles leaning out of a car window waving frantically, ‘they will say, oh look, there goes that nutty child. With her even nuttier mother’.

Yup. Time to get back to the real world. For a bit.

Picture This …

January 30, 2008

A village.

A small African village. It is dawn. The sun clambers up over a distant eastern horizon, stealing the darkness from the sky so that cotton-wool clouds blush at its audacity. Shadows dance out from beneath the shade to enjoy the early caress of warm rays. A cockerel crows, hoarsely now; he’s been announcing daybreak prematurely, incessantly, for hours. Smoke begins to drift, ribbons of dove-grey, into a brightening sky. Somewhere a child cries the plaintive, impatient cry children make at breakfast time.

A woman ventures out of her hut. She stoops as she steps through her door and into the morning. She rubs her eyes against the brightness, stretches and smiles, enjoying this fleeting moment of peace before her chores, and her children, begin to clamour for her attention. She pulls her vivid kanga more tightly about her against dawn’s brief and surprising chill.

There is kuni to be cut for a fire; water to be collected; a maize field to weed; a market to attend; a basket to weave; a friend’s hair to braid, whilst she sits, back poker-straight, in the cool cast by a spreading fig. There is washing to be done on the banks of a river where she will gather with the other women, where they will gossip and giggle and sing and stretch brightly coloured laundry to dry on rocks so that the river’s bank is awash with rainbow puddles. But first there are children to feed: uji from a cup, or bread dunked into sweet milky chai.

Her day meanders peacefully, its pace set by the march of the sun as it slips across the arc of a huge sky. Laughter and dogs and the shrill ringing of bicycle bells subside briefly at noon when the heat breathes somnolence into our small village. All we can hear is the interminable hot hiss of unseen cicadas. Even the goats, Africa‘s effective refuge disposal teams, are quietly still, the blue Marlboro bags upon which they were banqueting forgotten for now.

But as squat shadows lengthen and the worst of the sun’s heat evaporates as it collapses syrupy in the west, our village stirs in readiness for night fall: fires are stoked, kerosene lamps lit, men gather to share cigarettes and contemplate their good fortune: the rains were kind to them this year. Women collect children and crisp sun-dried laundry up. The blanket of darkness is punctured by the orange glow of the lamps and cozy glow of camp-fires. The air perfumed with the scent of cooking.

There is peace here. Quiet peace and predictability. Tomorrow will be the same: the business of living – building fires, tending crops, milking cattle, raising children – will resume with its reassuring, uncomplicated pattern.

Now picture this: a gang, high on dope and stolen hope, machete wielding, flame throwing, hatred hurling, steals into our village. Rampage. And screams. Confusion and terror.  A mother cannot find her small son, her face stricken with panic and loss; a father is cut down as he tries to bundle his family to safety. Dogs are kicked, they howl in pain and run, tails between legs, to seek cover. Cows pull at their tethers, wild eyed.  

It’s over quickly.  And then there is suffocating silence. And smoke. And ash. An abandoned shoe lies, on its own – one blue child’s shoe – in the dust. A bucket hastily dropped, so that its precious contents have leaked and bloodied the earth. A dog whimpers softly. A child’s sobs subside slowly. The hush is deafening, it fills the air which so recently beat with the unbearable din of war and fear. African villages are never this quiet: there is always laughter and bells and radios and song and cockerels and dogs and market vendors shouting their wares.

Even the cicadas have been startled to deathly silence.

********************

Picture this. And don’t, please don’t, allow, Kenya’s peace be reduced to implausible archived history, an unbelievable illusion.    

Mad Dogs and Englishmen. And Women.

January 28, 2008

On Friday evening husband asked me what I’d like to do at the weekend.

I thought for a moment and then suggested a meander across Hyde Park early on Saturday morning, followed by a deli breakfast of croissants and capuccino, a spot of window shopping, somewhere ridiculously bling-bling like Burlington Arcade since something of a dearth of bling bling (or croissants or capuccino for that matter) in Outpost. Then, I suggested, how about somewhere nice for lunch? A fabulous bottle of wine, oh! and then I know what: a movie? In Leicester Square: Michael Clayton? Elizabeth: The Golden Age?

Husband looked cresfallen.

Why don’t we just go for a walk then, I said, and  have a picnic.

Oh OK, he said, that’s a good idea.

It’s not. It’s what we do most weekends.

So we packed a picnic, Hat and the dogs into the car and drove twenty miles out of town towards a forest reserve where nobody but the charcoal burners go to cut down trees.

We parked the car and walked through the forest, coming across sad little clearings where flakes of coal bore evidence of magnificent towering indigenous trees burned to fuel. We came across the charcoal burners too who stared disbelieving. Many of them are unlikely to encounter a white man often. Not here. And certainly not one tailed by his wife and small daughter (who, fearing she might get bored has come armed with a brightly coloured shoulder bag filled with 3 books and her knitting). This extraordinary little procession, marching faster than two of its foot soldiers would like, and moving through the forest accompanied by small bleats of ”how much further, Dad?” is led by two golden labradors.

Livingstone marched through the same country 150 years ago. I don’t expect he caused any less of a stir than we did.

He was a veritable Englishman Out in the Midday Sun.

We supplemented with Mad Dogs and a marginally deranged woman.

Rose Tinted Spectacles

January 26, 2008

We are eking out our Christmas chocolates (not because we are saintly in our approach to all things confectionary  but because Treats – butter, cheese, nice fat roasting chickens, good chocolates – are hard to come by in the Outpost); we’ve got to the Quality Street: saving the best till last.

Quality Streets elicit teeth achingly sweet memories of childhood: my favourite then was the flat golden wrapped toffee. My choice has matured to the big purple one with the nut in the middle.

After supper Hat makes her selection with infinite care.

”Can I have three?”

”No, you can have two”.

This just slows up her deliberations because I’ve limited her choice.

”Have this one”, I proffer …. ”and this one”. (They are the Chocolate Orange Creme and the Strawberry Delight: which husband and I hate and she loves; imperative to have a lover of the orange and strawberry chocolates in any family or you’ll have to share the Caramel Swirls and Vanilla Fudge).

I digress.

Hat unwraps her chocolates and as I watch her smooth the colourful cellophane of each one to flatness on the dining table I am struck by another memory.

”I used to do that”, I tell her as I watch, ”when I was little.  And then I used to make spectacles using the coloured paper as lenses”.

Hat smiles, ”did you mummy?”

”Yes, I did, look”. And I pick the red wrapper up and put it to an eye. My world has gone pink.

”Rose tinted spectacles”, I say.

Hat, who is experimenting with a blue and a yellow asks, ”what does that mean?”

People who look on the bright side of life are sometimes said to be wearing rose tinted spectacles.

”I’m going to make some glasses like that, Mum, I’m going to make some with …. ” and she thinks …. ”green on one side and orange on the other.”

I laugh again.

”And then, when we go to Arusha I’m going to go to Shoprite (the largest supermarket in town) wearing my glasses and I’m going to wave at all my friends” (and she gets up from the table and minces around it waving at unseen crowds like a red carpet treading celeb might).

”People will think you’ve gone potty living in the bush” I tell her, “wearing your home-made glasses with different coloured lenses!”.

“So what?” she retorts, ”I shall them I’m looking on the bright side”.

So what indeed. Perhaps I’ll make some for myself.

My Big Toe Hurts

January 24, 2008

I do not blog because I approach life with such rampant enthusiasm I cannot bear to let an unrecorded moment slip by; I do not blog because I think I lead an enviably fascinating life that everybody is just busting to read about. 

I blog because I’m lonely. 

Yup. That’s me: the poor sad cow who talks to herself in cyberspace.  

Because there’s nobody here to talk to. 

Except darling Hat, of course, who suffers her mother’s frustrations at life in an Outpost with characteristic charm and sweetness and generosity: ‘It’s OK, Mum, you can talk to me”. 

And I can: about Barbie’s or what’s on the telly or what to cook or what to sew or when to swim or go for a walk, about the wonderful and briefly illuminating characters she introduces me to. We talk about lots of things.

But I cannot talk to her about how desperately isolating I find this place. 

That’d be unfair.  

Not to say churlish: if she is graceful enough to understand why we need to be here, old enough, at just ten, to accept that; why aren’t I? 

And my husband. I talk to him: about what’s on the news, or his day, or where we can escape to when we manage to get away.  But I cannot moan perpetually to him about being lonely. For he’d lose patience and get cross with me and then he wouldn’t talk to me about what’s on the news or his day or where we’re going on holiday. He wouldn’t talk to me at all. 

But it is lonely. 

Imagine a place where there is nothing to do unless you drive the entertainment yourself. And nowhere to go. Nowhere. Not unless you are prepared to undertake an expedition in a 4WD. (My forays out are either to Kaidi’s duka for milk or the market for bananas). The Outpost is almost 100 miles from an asphalt road. Almost three hundred from the nearest big town (where one could shop, a bit, or people watch, a bit, or eat out at more than one place). And it’s five hundred miles from anywhere to shop in a proper shop (the kind you might happily browse in), have lunch with a girlfriend, order a cappuccino, get your hair done. It is miles from a game park (despite being in the middle of the bush) and the other side of the country from the coast. It is as if it has been dropped from some celestial body high above onto the loneliest African plains on a passing whim. The only place to escape to is into yourself. Which I do: I climb into the pool and plough up and down until I am so weak knee’d and winded from the effort that I can’t think straight. And that’s good. 

People articulated concern when I moved here. But with feigned ebullience I told them, ‘’oh it’ll be fine, I’ll keep busy’. 

And I do. In a wafty sort of directionless way. For there is little to punctuate the beginning and the end of the day, like school runs (imagine missing your school run so much it almost makes you weep?!). Where once I set my alarm for 6 to get the kids up and out the door for school by seven, there is no real need to get up with any urgency here; I can begin school whenever I like: 8, 9, 10. And that’s not entirely a good thing. Where once I parcelled my chores into a few hours in order to tear across town to pick the children up, now I can take all day faffing. And that’s not a good thing either. 

Days go by and I see nobody other than my daughter, my husband, Sylvester the garden boy, Kaidi for a pint of milk. 

I need to practice having a conversation I tell myself but I find picking up the phone harder than it was once: which friend haven’t I called so recently that she’ll see my number and say ‘’oh gawd, not again, why doesn’t she get a sodding life!””. 

For I have so little to say. Other than ‘I taught, I walked, I wrote, I wished I weren’t so bloody far away.

’Hi there, it’s me’’. Again. 

‘’Oh hi, just dashing to town’’. 

‘’Oh. Right. Is this a bad time then?’’ 

‘’No, no, but I can’t chat long’’. 

‘Oh. Ok” 

Silence. 

‘’Well .. how are you? Busy? How are the kids?’’ 

‘’Fine, fine, very busy, never a spare moment, had visitors last weekend, got some more this weekend, going to an art exhibition and drinks on Saturday and got to host a birthday party for Jack on Sunday. God. Manic’’.  

‘’Right’’. (Lucky you). 

‘’How are you?’’, distractedly. I think she’s talking to somebody else at the same time. 

‘’Oh fine. You know. Bearing up. Bit lonely’’. 

A laugh, then, ‘’C’mon, it can’t be that bad.  There must be somebody to talk to?’’ 

‘’No. Not really’’.  

There’s the missionaries (who are very nice but a long ago memory of distant attempt by same to convert me to full blown bible reading Christianity has unnerved me), there’s a few do-good volunteers (who I’m sure are also very nice, very young, about my son’s age).  

‘’Anyway, look, sorry, I must run – I’m off to get my hair done, how delicious is that? And then I’m going to meet C for lunch’’. 

Cow. 

‘’Oh. Ok then. Bye. Talk soon’’. 

And I put the receiver down and wish I hadn’t called for now I feel emptier than before. 

I am lucky: I have a husband who loves me (most days), three glorious children whom I adore (most days – even if two of them are too far away to tell them that often enough), a home (in an ideal world not the home of my choice: but a home nonetheless) and a better internet connection than I’ve ever had. And I’m lucky because I can look forward to lunch. In Africa not a lot of people can do that. 

But I crave company and I long for the noise and bustle and pace of a busier world at times (getting away from it all isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, particularly not when you get this far away). 

One of my dearest friends (who remembers not to sound in too much of a hurry whenever I call) once told me, ‘it’s still your big toe that hurts’’.  

And when I’m lonely, it really does. It stings like hell and makes me forget that living in an Outpost absolutely isn’t the most difficult thing to cope with in the world.  

Even if it sometimes feel like it.    

My Week in Media

January 23, 2008

I’ve been tagged! I’ve been tagged! (Sorry, I’m just not cool enough to be blase about any kind of recognition). And by a proper, grown-up, does it for real journalist in Africa too, South of West (as opposed to wife, mother of three, pretending-to-be-journalist so she has something interesting to say at parties even though recent geography means there aren’t any to go to: hangups linger long). Thank you Mr Crilly.

And because of that I am obliged to tell you what I’ve read, watched, listened to and surfed in the past few days. Which really will go to show I’m not a proper journalist because my reading, viewing, listening and surfing aren’t nearly lofty enough to qualify for that. I only pretend to read the Spectator to impress people, in the hope they will be seduced into believing I’m alot cleverer than I am. When all I do in actuality, apart from tossing it nonchalantly onto the coffee table so that it’s seen, is alternate between salivating and giggling at Deborah Ross’s restaurant reviews.

So. To what I’ve read:

Deborah Ross. The Week (when I can find it). Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (and I had a job finding that last night too, so deeply buried was it beneath unread copies of the Spectator), ”what the bloody hell are you doing?” asked husband crossly. ”Trying to find my book” I replied just as crossly. ”Why don’t you leave it on your bedside table like normal people do?” I didn’t have an answer for that so continued to dig and finally unearthed it along with several dusty cuttings from the Sunday Times which have been lingering for months and which I still haven’t got round to reading. If I hadn’t found Salmon Fishing … I’d have picked up where I left off with Robert Guest in The Shackled Continent. ”Why do you have so many books beside your bloody bed, anway” asks irritated husband. Because, I tell him, in pompous voice I use when addressing him as the journalist I sometimes pretend I am, ”some are for relaxation, some are for research; Guest is research, for when I write my own bestseller on Africa”.

”And what’s the Spectator for then?”

”So that I know which restaurants to avoid. In the unlikely event I ever get near any of them”.

What I’ve Watched

Hannah Montana. Alot. Hat likes it and so if I find myself anywhere in the vicinity of her and the telly early evening, it’s Hannah she watches whilst I pretend not to. Because I’m too busy writing.

But it’s fine darling, you can still watch, it won’t distract me.

Are you sure Mum

Quite sure.

Then why can’t I hear you typing.

I also watch Sky, BBC World and, like South of West, BBC Food; Hat and I watch that together. And drool. Why can’t we make things like that to eat, Mum, she says, we ought to cook more. Being desperately hopeless housewife and failed DG I remind her (with sigh of relief as I count lucky stars, not something I do often on account of where I live) that Kaidi’s local duka does not sell mozarella or mascarpone or flaked almonds or pecan nuts. If it’s packet creme caramel you’re after, that’s great. If not, tough.

Last night I watched dire Romantic Comedy (I ought to know better: when is romance ever comical? really?) starring Richard Gere (who was once apparently famous for his association with a gerbil and more recently with Shilpa Shetty). Why do I do it? Waste 120 minutes in front of mindless drivel? Because, I suspect, I can’t decide what to read?

 If it’s Sunday, I watch Carte Blanche which usually reminds me what a desperate place Africa often is.

OK – what I’ve listened to:

BBC World Service, if I can get to the controls on the satellite radio beside husband’s bed first. TalkSport it not.

My ipod. Very loudly. Skipping the ghastly stuff eldest daughter uploaded onto it and replaying endlessly the stuff I did. It helps me to concentrate whilst writing. Mainly because it helps to distract me from Hannah Montana if I happen to be pretending to write in same room as Hat whilst she’s watching telly …

And finally what I’ve surfed

The Times, most days, and the Daily Mail. The Times because I aspire to be serious journalist. The Daily Mail because there is something deeply satisfying in knowing celebs don’t sport the looks they do because of luck or genes or macrobiotic diets.

This week surfing has been dictated by three commissions (no really, I’m not just saying that) – one on tobacco growing in Africa (big serious grown up piece), one on eating disorders (sadly on the up, a backlash to the antiobesity message?) and the third a contentious investigation into whether or not dads ought be encouraged into the delivery room or not.

I’ve also spent alot of time on the BBC’s learning sites in an effort to make Hat’s science lessons more interesting for her and less overwhelming for me. Never a scientist anyway, I am defeated by circuits, simple machines and that whole solid, liquid, gas thing. And whilst so doing I have stumbled across the BBC’s ingenious GCSE Bitesize revision pages . I told my son who sits his exams in four months about my find. He didn’t sound as thrilled as I’d hoped he might.

I also spend time every day checking out the depression stories delivered to my inbox by Google alerts. Sometimes I read encouraging stories: about new and realistic treatments that are being developed. Sometimes I read impossibly ridiculous ones: doctors who think Botox will cure depression – if a person cannot look depressed (because they cannot frown, say, or look sad),  they will not feel it. There’s educated reason for you. Sometimes, and at the moment in particular, my depression stories are about collapsing markets and global slumps. Which I suppose isn’t so different?

I’m going to tag Potty Mummy, Iota and Primal Sneeze if they can bear it because I think between them they’ll give us a good geographical spread on media: UK, the States and Ireland.

K. Bye now. Off to read the Speccie …

A Unlikely Visitor for Supper

January 21, 2008

Last night Sir Jack came for supper.

I hadn’t expected a visitor, Hat only alerted me to possibility of a guest whilst she was wallowing in her bath:

 Can one of my friends come round, Mum?

Sure. Where are you going? (Hat, of course, disappeared when both Madame Marcia and Marcella made their appearances)

My friend is the captain of a ship, I’m going to have supper with his crew.

Oh. Right.

Later, making scrambled egg (which is what constitutes dinner in the home of failed Domestic Goddesses), guest shambled into the kitchen.

He was wearing a large hat which obscured his face and walked with an obvious limp. Whilst on one foot he wore a boot (which looked remarkably like one I own), the other leg appeared to be missing both foot and boot.

Hello, said visitor gruffly in a really dodgy Cockney accent (not dissimilar to the one Hat had been practising for a couple of days enquiring whether she sounded ”English”), ”I’m Sir Jack”.

Oh hello, I said, trying not to giggle as I proffered a hand to shake. A hook (which I swear was the curled end of a metal coat hanger) shot out in response.

Good grief, I said, what on earth happened to your hand Sir Jack? … And your foot come to think of it. In fact, where is your foot?

Not wishing to be forward but unable to help myself, I tugged up the leg of my guest’s voluminous trousers (not something I would do ordinarily, really). I thought I caught a movement, a foot hastily retreating up inside the leg of his pants, but perhaps I’m just being uncharitable. For all I saw was a stick. A peg leg.

”Bloody sea lion”, said Sir Jack, ”ripped off my hand and my foot”.

Heavens I said, why did it do that?

“It was sitting on the X”.

X?

”Yes, yes”’, he said impatiently, ”on the X Marks The Spot on my treasure map, had to move it off so I could get to my gold, innit?”.

Oh dear I say with as much concern as I can muster (despite swallowing laughter).

”It’s not funny, you know, bloody thing’

Your language, I remonstrate, is shocking.  I never swear, I say (madly crossing fingers)

No, he replies as quick as a flash, you just speak French instead.

Did my daughter tell you that?

She might ‘ave.

He stalked about my kitchen as I bunged bread into the toaster and opened a can of Baked Beans, his peg clipping against the floor.

And then I swore I heard him pass wind.

”You filthy bugger!” I said, feigning outrage.

“I seen a lot more filthy things in my time than you áve young lady”, he retorted without a trace of shame.

Having introduced Sir Jack to husband we all sit down to eat our eggs on toast.

I am aghast at my guest’s manners. They are beyond shocking. He eats with his mouth open and scoops food up with the fingers of his one working hand.

Would you like a drink, Sir Jack? I enquire

 Gin. He says.

We’re out, says my husband shortly.

I watch his slovenly manners for a bit longer and then can’t resist commenting, ”your table manners are shocking Sir Jack, do you get many invitations to dinner?”

”You try eating with a hook”, he says.

I keep quiet after that.

Dinner over and Sir Jack gets up and lumbers off. As an afterthought he tosses a 2p coin onto the table, ”keep the change”, he instructs gruffly.

Ooooh thanks, I’ll try not to spend it all at once.

Seconds later Hat skips out to join me in the kitchen where I am clearing up.

”How was supper with the crew?” I ask.

Disgusting, she says, and they ate like pigs, no manners at all.

Funny that, I say, Sir Jack’s were lacking too.

************************************** 

My daughter’s forays into the world of Make Believe are a new thing. They have made their debut in our lives since we made ours in the Outpost. I cannot decide whether they are born of a desire to be entertained, to entertain us or because, like me, the isolation is driving her ever so slightly potty. But it doesn’t matter. For they are always a happy distraction and every visitor she introduces us to is a wonderfully, colourful character whose brief presence is hugley welcome in a place largely devoid of company.

 

Angels in the Outpost

January 20, 2008

Driving through town we encountered a swarm of motorcyclists, all bound, Hells Angel like, in similar direction.

They weren’t riding sleek Harleys (they were on livid coloured Chinese bikes with – from the experience of owning one ourselves once – stickers on the seats that warn of the dangers of drinking wine, not alcohol, wine, pre-mounting) and were not dressed in leathers.

Where on earth are they all going? I asked bemused husband as we watched stream of solemn riders turn at a junction whilst we waited.

It wasn’t until the tail enders came into view that we guessed: they were members of a long wedding procession; we found ourselves behind two ample figured bridesmaids, riding pillion and dressed in green.

angels-in-the-outpost.jpg

Behavioural habits of Men and Mosquitoes

January 19, 2008

Hat is doing a school project on mosquito borne diseases. I have learned, in the course of our combined research, that:

Female mosquitoes have itchy feet and have been shown to fly as far as 25 miles from where they hatched to where they were slapped by irritated dinner victim. How do they know that? was she carrying a map with her route carefully marked? a or do female mosquitoes carry ID indicating place of birth?

Male mosquitoes never bite – instead, on account of sweet tooth, they feed on nectar, full of sugar and vitamin C no doubt, which they probably cram into man-bags to sustain man-fat and keep man-flu at bay.

A female mosquito’s life span is anything up to 100 days; the male’s is 10 to 20 days. Which just goes to show a sweet tooth is bad for your health whereas one high in iron is presumably quite good?

Depending on temperature, mosquitoes can develop from egg to adult in under a week. This will impress pushy parents everywhere who would like to oust little ones from nest into lucrative careers faster than their peers can.

The mosquito’s visual picture, produced by various parts of its body, is an infrared view generated by its prey’s body temperature. It’s why it helps to sleep with a hot man (hot as in warm to the touch hot as opposed to George Clooney Hot). My own hot man(who gets bitten far more frequently than cooler blooded I) says this is ”bollocks:” whether he meant ”bollocks” to hot Clooney or “bollocks” to hot, as in warmer to the touch hot, I didn’t bother to enquire.

And talking of men, my own has several peculiar behaviour traits of his own:

He hides our copies of The Week (quite possibly the best magazine in the entire world) until he has read them. I only discovered this recently when I noticed one, still plastic wrapped, poking out of his bedside drawer. I pinched it to read first. Which was childishly satisfying for me and childishly irksome for him.

He never puts the loo seat back down: cliched but true

He is very, very tidy. I am very, very untidy. He likes to reorganise my desk so that I can find my pencil, rubber, keyboard. I prefer the challenge of the hunt. His wardrobe a testimony to a man who never deliberates about what to wear every morning, mine bears proof of the fact that even in splendid isolation I cannot decide. What is discarded is hastily stuffed back into a drawer in favour of something else dragged just as hastily out.

He hates to change plans. As a result I have learned not to commit until I am absolutely certain. Once I’ve said ”yes” to something, he would only grant an exception if I was hit by a bus, eaten by a lion or bitten by a well travelled mosquito that has grown old on a diet high in haemoglobin and has a GPS around her neck.

                        

Empty Nest

January 17, 2008

There is an abandoned cricket bat in the back of my car.

It’s a metaphor for the sudden emptying of the house.

My son forgot it there. I’ll leave it where it is; lying behind my seat. Then every time I open the rear door to dump or retrieve shopping I shall see it and can briefly imagine him home and ready to bat a ball about.

We came home from our school run to find the house too tidy. Too quiet. Too jolly empty. Tiny pokey rooms have found big voices in their echoey amplification.

You can see the floor in Amelia’s room; no longer is it strewn with shoes, discarded clothes which she optimistically hopes will grow legs all of their own and make their way to the laundry basket unaided. No longer is there a cockroaches’ banquet of cereal bowls encrusted with muesli under her bed (remnants of midnight feasts, my daughter a hungry owl who makes nocturnal forays into the kitchen whilst we are fast asleep). The carpet in her room is no longer tangled. It has been pulled regimentally straight as if to compete for brownie points with the hospital corners of her bed. Drawers and cupboard doors are closed, no longer regurgitating their contents in colourful ribbons that hang out waiting to party with the debris on the floor. Why do I nag her to tidy her room; it’s very neatness now a miserable reminder she isn’t here.

And Ben’s, smaller, is similar, clinically spic and span. His bats (all but one) are standing to attention in the corner of the room, no longer languishing on the floor waiting for a game, waiting to trip me up. His shoes lined against the wall, toes pointing orderly ready to salute. I sit on his bed and notice a stray sock peeking out from beneath it. It has gathered a happy amount of dust.

I have regained control of the TV remote: no longer do I have to catch snatches of news between cricket test matches and rowdy music from pop bands with unpronounceable names. But dour monotones issuing forth from BBC World don’t make me want to dance, not like Mika does, until Amelia begs me to stop: ”Maaaaaarm, you’re so embarrassing!”.

The scatter cushions on the sofa are no longer scattered because a teen lies sprawled in their place. Instead they’re sitting up stiffly. All plumped and pompous.

Hat says, ”school’s OK Mum but I prefer the holidays”.

I know what she means.

Why don’t you play in your brother and sisters’ rooms I ask. She looks a little doubtful, their territory, clearly marked (doors plastered with Keep Out signs and lewd skull and crossbones) is usually out of bounds. Go on, I urge.

She does. Ben’s bedroom floor is now a deathtrap of Lego shrapnel and the miniature residents of her doll’s house for whom she is building a hotel, she says.

Perhaps she and I can escape there one weekend?