Men at Work?

We are to move house. Despite the odds on finding anything remotely suitable; we have. We are – as a consequence – immersed in a flurry of activity as we urge the contractor and his team of brickies forth.


The house is an untidy remnant of the days of the British administration. Husband noted, with a hint of smug pleasure, that the road where the little house is was once the residential area of First Officers. I think, perhaps, I remark to him, that the First Officers lived in the row in front of where our home-to-be stands: the row where the houses are bigger, grander and once had a view across the plains to the south of the Outpost. Not that a view is visible any longer; it’s been obliterated by fields of maize that stand higher than an elephant’s eye.


The house – abandoned back in the sixties – is in need of spade loads of TLC (along, naturally, with same of cement to patch up yawning cracks in walls and floors). The termites, several generations of them, have built tunnels that run top to bottom and length and breadth of rooms, a spaghetti junction wrought of mud. The electrics are a veritable death trap: wires garland the house like a noose. The plumbing, what little is left, is rusty so that taps spit water the colour of smokers’ phlegm and the ceiling boards belly with damp and mould. The colonies of cockroaches evicted when we ripped the flaking kitchen units out scowl indignantly from dark recesses around the sink.


The garden, which is huge so that the children and the dogs rejoiced on seeing it, is presently a field of mahindi; the corn has yet to be harvested by the family who leased the land to cultivate. I am encouraging Sylvester, please, to plant some semblance of lawn in the gaps between the crop. Before the rain abandons us, I press. He thinks I am mad. But I am used to that. I push my way between the ranks of maize to examine what gems might lie within the garden, what can I salvage. There are a couple of palms hiding there and one or two shrubs, their prettiness disguised by the collapsing stalks and cobs shedding parchment skin. There is a glorious flamboyant tree which is slowly having the life strangled out of it by an ugly purple bougainvillea, thick and knotty with age it has clambered right to the top so that the tree sags lethargically beneath the creeper’s weight. We shall chop it down, I tell Sylvester, the bougainvillea I remember to say, not the tree. But not until the landlord has lost interest in the renovations we are making and has taken his beady eye off me.


Hat and I visit daily. Sometimes twice. Hat discovers an old dial telephone in one of the bedrooms. She is intrigued and spends ages dialing numbers. ‘Did you really used to have a phone like this when you were little’, she asks, amazed that her mother is old enough to have witnessed – utilized – the workings of something so archaic looking.  Is technology moving too quickly? If our children dismiss the communication tools of their parents’ youth as something Noah might have placed a call on when he was ordering up all those animals I think perhaps it could be?


We take the dogs when we visit. They leap from the car and race about inspecting the place, pee’ing on every stone to mark a territory that isn’t theirs yet. I wonder if they understand it will be. Theirs. Soon. The labourers used to look alarmed when I first took the dogs; they used to stop leaning on their spades and cup their crotches nervously. Now that they know my fat Labradors are a pair of softies they just keep leaning on their spades.

I do wish they’d hurry up.



9 Responses to “Men at Work?”

  1. nuttycow Says:

    Oooo exciting! I’m sure you’ll have fun making the house liveable though… when do you actually move in?

  2. Iota Says:

    Do you think Hat’s generation think the word ‘dial’ means ‘to poke buttons’, whilst we still think of it as a circular motion? I suppose they do. In which case, do they think of using a calculator or a cashpoint machine as dialing? (I don’t imagine you have too many of those in Outpost, but you could ask her what she thinks.) Does the idea of a sundial confuse them? Come to think about it, people don’t talk about the dial of a watch or clock so much any more; they talk about a clock face.

    Sorry, that’s a real tangent, when I should be congratulating you on your new home.

  3. Potty Mummy Says:

    Congratulations on finding somewhere – though not sure that ‘suitable’ is quite the word I would have used once I finished reading your descriptions of the plumbing, the termites, and the garden. But then, life is rather different here. In S Ken we complain and call out rentokill if one solitary ant dares to poke it’s antennea in the house…

  4. Roberta Says:

    I can’t wait to read future posts! What an exciting change for you!
    I’ve grown addicted to your blog, Dear RM. Keep it up!

  5. carol Says:

    You must tell Hat about the funny phone at Sotik with the handle on the side that you had to crank to get the operator (I don’t think it even had a dial!). And that we had to remember that when the phone rang in the house it may not be for us – we had to listen for a special ring (long-short-long-short) – but if you picked it up after some other ring you may be able to listen in to someone elses conversation (and that’s why I thought it was called a ‘party line’ – I guess ‘party line’ now means some 08 number where you can listen to a sexy man or woman….. )

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    NuttyCow: moveable feast I think. we think june. builder, in his optimistic moments (most of them: optimistic) says may. in reality? july? August? before xmas?

    Iota, i asked her, i asked her! ”what does dial mean, Hat’?”. she looks at me like i am stupid (which i am, of couse, but irritating when 11 year old regards one thus), ”you know”, she says slowly (for stupid people), ”punching buttons”!.

    And in Outpost, PM, contractor regards termite trails solemnly and says he will get rid of insect life with ”very strong poison”, the sort that puts entire communities at risk of needing to wear a gas mask.

    thank you Roberta. it is exciting isn’t it? i walked through the house last night and thrilled at the light: it was full of glorious evening light. My house here is so dark.

    oh Carol how wonderful I do remember. I do. Hat doesn’t me believe me of course. but you have presented ideal blog fodder. i remember dad cussing mirella riccardi cos she answered everybody’s ring and he could never get her off the phone! x

  7. Iota Says:

    Thank you for asking her! Of course the other meaning of ‘dial’ is ‘to make appear as if by magic’, as in ‘to dial a pizza’. I expect you don’t do all that much of that in Outpost either.

  8. ExpatKat Says:

    Wonderful looking home. How exciting. Love reading your stories.

  9. Prison Break « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] The house is coming along really, really slowly. Really slowly. Outpost speed. Which is really slow (did I […]

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