Bottling Memories

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.

22 Responses to “Bottling Memories”

  1. Irene Says:

    I’ve just discovered your blog and read some of your older posts and have already fallen in love with it, so I have bookmarked it and will be by every day to see how you are doing. I have lots to learn about you yet, but I will catch up. In the meantime, take care of yourself there, out in the vast wilderness. I am in the overpopulated Netherlands, so that is quite a contrast.

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you very much, Irene. I hope I continue to deliver and don’t disappoint.

  3. Mzungu Chick Says:

    Have a good trip to civilisation Mem. We’ll catch up when you’re back.
    Take care.

  4. Single Mother on the Verge Says:

    Enjoy having your highlights done… 500 miles, that is an entirely different world!
    I hope you aren’t missing your children at boarding school too much. And wonderful tale about the glasses.
    Smov x

  5. nuttycow Says:

    Now now Mem… there’s nowt wrong with being a bit nutty 😉

  6. driftwood Says:

    I just found your blog, and I’ve read back through a few of your posts. I love the way you describe your life, and your feelings jump off the screen to me. I hope your trip is a nice change for you, and that it’s not too hard for you to see what you are missing. take care, travel safely. xx

  7. Potty Mummy Says:

    Of COURSE the queen has a mobile. Tell Hat that’s why she carries the handbags – so she can fit her brick ’80’s phone in there. (She worries about radiation with these newer versions, she told me recently…)

  8. Iota Says:

    I think writing about those moments is a way of bottling them. Not quite the same, but perhaps the nearest you can get. Have a good trip (you’re not secretly jetting off to London and going to Patisserie Valerie without me, are you?)

  9. Expatmum Says:

    I’m here to tell you that you can be as nutty as a fruitcake even in a large city, like me (Chicago) – it’s a cool, elite group to be in! Have fun.

  10. Dumdad Says:

    I agree with Iota: in years to come you will re-read this post and the memories and sights and sounds and scents will come flooding back.

    Incidentally, thanks for visiting my blog. You mentioned Bovril – I LOVE Bovril. I can buy it in Paris (and Marmite) but it is expensive. So I’m always on the lookout for a friend or colleague who’s popping back to Blighty and I put in an order for three jars or so.

    Coincidentally, I started re-reading An Ice Cream War by William Boyd which is set in British East Africa and German East Africa, which covered part of Tanzania, I believe.

  11. ann Says:

    Oh you will miss Hat so badly.

  12. Alice C Says:

    Your blog is the bottle into which you are squeezing your memories. I find that I use my blog to capture conversations with my teenage children – trivial moments that would otherwise be lost. It is wonderful to ‘hear’ the sound of their voices when I re-read early posts.

    Enjoy your trip to the Big City!

  13. Dorian Says:

    I just found your blog and I love it! I can’t wait to follow you on your journey with your beautiful way of writing. You are inspiring to us all!

  14. black mzungu Says:

    the children are so innocent, what they do is direct from their hearts of hearts, memory are there to stay in your heart, sometimes the past seems so close as if its the future. have fun out there in the so called civilization!

  15. kayak woman Says:

    Not sure how I ran across your blog but love to read about your adventures. The psychedelic specs remind me of once when my daughter (about 9-10 at the time) and I were walking along at a nearby shopping center (american suburbia). She had on a beautiful, long, green flowered dress and people kept smiling at her and I kept thinking they just thought she was cute. Then I saw that she was wearing neon green fake fangs that matched the dress perfectly.

  16. Potty Mummy Says:

    RM, it’s not a trip tp Patisserie Valerie but I do have an award for you on my latest post. You could always pretend it’s a Fraisier cake (almond and strawberry confection) if you prefer…

  17. minx Says:

    You have bottled it – you wrote it here.

  18. maggie may Says:

    I really love your posts! My little grand daughters who live with me keep me smiling. Millie,aged 3, who is allowed to choose her on clothes for the day, recently put on a fur trimmed anorak, as its cold here, and on top of the hood, a straw hat that she had brought back from a trip to Thailand! Old ladies smiled. Think they thought she was a refugee!

  19. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you all. I have been on the road and incommunicado and returned to my blog, courtesy of somebody else’s internet connection, to find these responses. I hope I shall be able to drag myself back to the outpost after my foray out. i have seen my big children, which i loved but which reminded me how much i miss them. I have seen friends and relearned the gentle art of conversation (funny how you can forget?), and hat has gone off to school this morning as if she had never been away. I think that’s a good thing. Ann, you are right: when she leaves outpost for proper school permanently i shall miss her desperately.

    Dumdad: icrecream war is fabulous. yes, tanzania it is. have you read boyd’s good man in africa? I’d recommend that too. indeed have host of africa books I’d promote if you’re bitten by the bug …

    potty mummy: thank you for the award. I dont’ need to pretend it’s a cake: an award is lovely. and thanks for the phone tip: hat will be most impressed that you are in regular contact with HM.

    kayak woman, i loved the green fangs, and maggie may the straw hat was marvellous, what an eclectic dress sense: to be encouraged at all costs, she will emerge as a world class and much feted designer.

    minx I did, didn’t I: bottle it. thank you.

  20. Dumdad Says:

    Yes, I’ve read A Good Man in Africa. Any others I should read?

  21. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    I have just finished Into Africa by Martin Dugard, about livingstone and stanley, really great read. And Outpost features often! Wasn’t such an outpost then ironically! Also adored when a crocodile eats the sun, peter godwin, about zim, truly truly fabulous. Enjoy!

  22. Back Again … | Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] thought? As much has changed as has stayed the same. You still can’t get a cappuccino, a head of highlights or a pedicure. But you can buy butter, water is shunted down the pipes and out of taps more […]

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