The week that was …

Monday: Hat has acquired a guitar. She wants lessons. There isn’t a music academy in Outpost. There isn’t, as far as I am aware, a music teacher.

She grows increasingly distraught: 

– But I’ve got a guitar now, and I shall never, ever learn how to play it and it will just sit here being useless, she sobs.

I have a rare light bulb moment and write a letter to our landlords at the Anglican diocese next door. The church band practices regularly outside tiny St Stephen’s at the end of our road. I see them as I drive past: strumming or drumming or fingering a keyboard beneath the shade of a mango tree, an electric cord snaking through the dust to add power and amplification to various instruments. Perhaps one of the players would be able to help?

Shortly after dispatching my letter a besuited gentleman, who introduces himself as Christopher, appears. He has found, he tells me, a guitar playing member of the band who is prepared to teach Hat. Hat, who has rushed eagerly out to greet our visitor, does a small jig to show how pleased she is.

– He can come on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, says Christopher.

– Gosh, I say, what’s his fee?– 25,000/- (about $20)

– Gosh, I say (again), that’s quite a lot for a lesson (do the math: it’s almost 400 bucks a month).

– No, no, no, not per lesson, Christopher assures me, that’s the total fee for teaching your daughter everything he knows about music and the guitar.

Either our new teacher, who is called George, does not appreciate how much Hat has to learn or he has little in the way of knowledge to impart.

Later, when we drive to the duka, Hat notices the band practicing. She leans far out of the car window, grinning and waving. A tall man, holding a guitar, waves back.

– Do you think that’s him, Mum, do you think that’s George?

– Perhaps, I say.

– Will he recognise me on Monday?

Probably. Given that she’s the only European child hankering for guitar lessons in a several hundred kilometer radius.

Tuesday: I receive the editorial report on my book. It is 14 pages long. It says that providing I’m prepared to do the work recommended (which is considerable), I could, possibly, with a kinder market (not one that favours the autobiographies of footballers wives) and a lot of luck, be in with the smallest hint of a chance at publication. 

What do you think? Shelve it or give it a bash?

Wednesday: Husband returns from a day in the field with smallholders. He met, he says, a delightful old boy who did not know his age but remembers he was a young teenager at the start of World War I. We calculate he must be well over 100.  Fit with it, observed husband: ”he walked with a stick and his teeth were falling out but he was all there and his hearing was perfect”.

I’d like to spend a day beneath a tree with him, drinking tea and listening to his stories. He must have a few.

Thursday: Hat and I walk the dogs. Hat is wearing a skirt and for reasons unknown suddenly drops a curtsey in the dust.

– did you have to do that, Mum, she asks.

– what?

– curtsey, when you were little?

I’m not that old I tell her. I’m not 108 like the old boy her father met yesterday. Even if I sometimes look it.

Friday: Hat watches a movie on the telly, Harriet the Spy. It prods a long buried memory to shuffle to the forefront of my addled brain: her older siblings and I watched the same film in a cinema in England as I awaited her birth. It’s why she’s called what she is: I hadn’t considered the name until then.  It is about a girl of 11 who wants to be a writer. Like Hat: an eleven year old aspirant author. It’s why my own Harriet now wants a typewriter. A computer simply wouldn’t be the same.

– typewriters are a bit old fashioned, I tell her, it might be hard to fine one.

– but the Outpost is old fashioned, Mum …

What to say to that? It is. We’re in a time warp here. Dragging our feet in the dust, decades behind the rest of much racier well-heeled Tanzania.

– but why do you want a typewriter, I ask?

– I’d like to listen to the sound of the keys clacking.

The encouraging tune that accompanies writerly imagination.Perhaps that’s what I need …

Saturday: husband leaps out of bed very early to help a colleague butcher a pig they have purchased together. (This is an outpost, remember that: we don’t have the luxury of a selection of vacuumed packed meatcuts to choose from in the supermarket). He arrives home some hours later with kilos of pork including, I am thrilled to hear, the animal’s head. So that I can ”make brawn” apparently.

I wrinkle my nose at the suggestion so that husband knows exactly what I think of the idea.

I am definitely getting a typewriter. In hope that hearing the sound of my (pretence at) working as busy, important author will dissuade husband from making suggestions that I should occupy myself in kitchen in manner of 1920’s housewife.

– have you got a recipe then, for brawn?

And he begins to dig about my kitchen.

– Delia will have one, wont’ she?

– Delia is too young I tell him.  Try Mrs Beeton.

He pulls Isabella Beeton’s tome on being domestic goddess down from shelf. Several families of cockroaches vacate the pages.

– they know it’s a good place to hide, observes husband sagely.

Most of my recipe books are: where once (whilst still hell bent on becoming DG) I cooked often (and badly and too hastily) the pages are splashed with cake mixture and tomato sauce and lemon pips. Infrequent forays into new culinary adventures, however, means recipe books rarely get an airing.

Or cockroaches, clearly, evacuation.   

13 Responses to “The week that was …”

  1. Potty Mummy Says:

    Give it a bash. Definitely. I promise to buy it, anyway…

    And I’m sure there must be gadgets you can buy that make the sound of typewriter keys as you tap away on your computer keyboard. If Hat thinks that’s not authentic enough, ask her how authentic it will feel when she’s cleaning the dust out of the real one for the 3rd time in a month. (Though apologies if I have completely the wrong idea on the Outback and dust is no problem!)

  2. daisyfae Says:

    if you don’t ‘give it a bash’, will you regret it? and perhaps the act of ‘bashing’ will trigger something else along the way… or perhaps if the publisher has a change of mind, another will be prepared to accept it?

    “Harriet”… the book was an inspiration to me as a child, and the movie inspired my now 21-year old daughter. I only wish i’d thought to capture the name…

  3. R. Sherman Says:

    Definitely bash. It will keep you occupied instead of staring at a hog’s head wondering what to do with it.


  4. tash Says:

    I remember the sinking feeling I got when I saw Gordon’s graffiti scrawled across my MS – would there be any vestige of my book left when I finished, I wondered? Of course, there is. Read between the squiggles and you’ll see most of it is your own words, just put better. Have a bash….

    Your description of your cookbooks remind me of Mum’s – I love turning the pages to find they open of their own accord, splattered with dry dough and smears of chocolate at all her favourite recipes – it is one of the most evocative reminders of her that I have.

    lots of love…

  5. Rob Says:

    Yes. Give it a bash definitely. Don’t think anyone would go to the bother of 14 pages unless there was some glimmer of hope. Which book is this by the way? You have had a very interesting and varied week by alll accounts. My daughter took her first fiddle lesson this week. Maybe this coming generation will provide a bit of musical talent which is sadly lacking in some of their parents… What happened to the pig’s trotters? Apparently they were a much sought after delicacy some years back in these parts. Love the bit about the old man. You will have to drink lots of sweet milky tea with him and enlighten us with some of his stories.

  6. Maggie May Says:

    Definitely give it a bash. I love your descriptions. Hope Hat gets on well with the guitar.

  7. ExpatKat Says:

    Most definitely give it a go. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I admire you for having got a full manuscript together.

    My daughter got a guitar for xmas. We got her a DVD of lessons to pick up the basics, but most of the time she sits and strums and picks out tunes herself. Think she finds it therapeutic.

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    PM – thanks. For encouragment and for promising to buy. Hope skiiing lovely? Oh yes, there’s dust. Alot of it given my failure as DG.

    Daisyfae: probably yes. regret it. So best bash away. Harriet. So wholesomely oldfashioned somehow isn’t it. Especially when it’s Harriet Alice. After my grandmother who we only discovered recently was actually Alicia but thought the name preposterously OTT so called herself Alice. My Hat quite likes Alicia though …

    Mr Sherman: My sentiments entirely, thanks for articulating it for me.

    Tash: I will. Bash away. Literally and metaphorically. On a computer keyboard though, not, sadly to accompanying song of typewriter keys (which lots of writers still use btw). Perhaps the indignant swipe of paper and the satisifying hiss or the roller as you whip a poor piece of writing from the machines jaws is happy vent for frustrating writer’s block? How’s your re-bash? And I loved the memory of your mum.

    Rob: refugees … again … though different title. Had minor success with early chapters in a writing competition in dec which prompted me to drag it out from beneath dust jackets. Big rewrite ahead though … Trotters stayed with colleague. Husband quite rightly assumed I would not want them, even though he tells me they are the ‘caviar of the pig’. Lovely. Yes – be nice if some of these kids emerged with some musical talent. I lack entirely and family laugh if I attempt to sing. That Hat told me I had a good bottom for wiggling when I danced which I assume means its getting big?

    Thank you very much Maggie May. I will. And shall report back after Hat’s first guitar lesson, tmr.

    Thank you for reading ExpatKat. The ms is one thing: now I have to brave a rewrite … It’s sitting on my desk accusingly now. A great big block of paper …

  9. asqfish Says:

    Your Hat has her heart in the right place and an imagination unfettered by TV shows and girl magazines that constrain girls into being mindless with size one to four. bodies.

    Enjoy the freedom of mind while you can, nothing lasts forever!

    Keep writing, if they reject it, send it someplace else, till you find the appropriately appreciative audience. No pearls before swines please.

  10. nuttycow Says:

    Sadly, I’m reading this post slightly too late to add an original comment. I agree with all of the above. If you don’t ask, you don’t get and all that. Keep plugging away and if someone rejects it, send it to someone else. Just think, one day, when you’re world famous and jetting round the outposts of the world, some poor publisher will be holding their head in their hands, sobbing softly, knowing you were the one they let slip away.

    Probably 😉

  11. Iota Says:

    Just tell your husband that you don’t know what to do with the pig’s head because you can’t be expected to supply both the brains and the brawn.

    I’m with the ‘give it a bash’ brigade.

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Nutty Cow: I doubt, but nice of you to suggest as much.

    Iota: you are too, too clever. Wish I’d thought of that. He made his own brawn in the end. It looks like cat sick. ”are you sure you don’t want to try it” he says. Quite sure. Absolutely. Positive, in fact.

  13. Roland Hulme Says:


    If your book’s half as good as your blog, it’ll be a corker.

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