Where are the Wombles when you need them?

We are packing up.




The second time in year.


Only this time we’re not going as far: this time we’re not trekking from one side of a large African country to another. This time we’re merely moving across town.


Our new address is laughably ostentatious testimony to the snobbish hierarchy of British colonial administration:


House Number E8

Cheyo “A” Senior Officers Estate

Ulaya Road


Ulaya – in Kiswahili – means Europe. Anywhere in Europe. Anywhere from where white men may hail.


The houses on the dusty little lane all vary in shape and size. The one we’re moving into clearly wasn’t home to anybody of terribly high ranking; it’s too small for that.  Nor is it as well positioned as others which face the view to the east and the sun rise.  The Regional Commissioner lives in one of those now. As does the resident judge.


I hate packing. I hate facing the accusing clutter I have accumulated: rubbish which laments my failings as anything approximating domestic. I’d rather write than pack. I’d rather read than wrap china up in paper. I’d rather any challenge than that of securing the safety of a piece of glass in a sheet of crumpled tissue.


Why do we collect so much stuff?


Ben says, because I have bribed him to help me, ‘I’ve never seen you use these glasses, Mum, how long have you had them?’

They were a wedding present. So almost twenty years. They are
Waterford crystal whiskey tumblers. Nobody in our house drinks whiskey. One still bears a sticker.


‘Why don’t you sell some then?’ enquires my practical son (whilst I make mental note to give him a cheque as a present when he gets hitched, not expensive glass).


‘Where?’ I ask, ‘who’s going to buy cut glass in the Outpost?’


Once I wouldn’t have considered selling the stuff because I’d attached all kinds of sentiment to it. Now it’s just packing fodder because I can’t think what else to do with it as we trail from house to house (our 6th since we got to Tanzania), possessions which I realize I only remember I own every time I unpack or pack.


I’ve packed it up again.


If I have to pack anything, it’s books. They’re easy to pack. They don’t need wrapping first. And they provide such happy distraction from the job in hand: you can’t examine a glass with the same joy that you can the back of a book. I have packed twenty boxes so far,  I’ve barely scratched the surface, I pulled them from shelves and watched the dust motes dance in the sun, indignant at being disturbed for the first time in nearly a year.  I watched the clouds of snoozing mosquitoes come to life and swarm in a cross crowd about my head, whining that I’d woken them up. I took satisfaction in that: vengeance for the fact they keep me awake often at night. I watched the occasional gecko tumble from the pages of the odd tome and scurry quickly for cover, its small rubbery body wriggling in agitation, sometimes leaving a tail behind.  


Hat reports from her own packing up.


‘’You would be very proud of me’’, she says, ‘’I have even thrown some stuff out.’’


Hat is a worse squirrel than her mother.  I blame my maternal grandmother, Alice, after whom Hat is partly named and from whom I inherited not only my tendency to hoard but most of my books too. Granny A couldn’t throw a thing away: it meant her cupboards were chock-full of the most delicious treasures including the original press cuttings from the Errol murder which threw Kenya’s Happy Valley into a state of scandalous turmoil.  When I found them, they were quite jaundiced with age and curling at the edges like parchment.


‘’What haven’t you thrown out?’’, I enquire


‘’Bits and Bobs’’, she says.


Bits and bobs worry me; bits and bobs morph into rubbish quite quickly.


‘’Like what?’’


‘’You know: like that really long pencil I’ve got …’’


The sort of thing relatives give children as souvenirs of cities they’ve visited, the sort of thing you can never find a sodding sharpener for so its useful life is remarkably short.


‘’When did you last use it?’’ I want to know


‘’I can’t remember’’, she admits and wanders off.


I know the very long, utterly redundant pencil is going to find its way into our new home, just like my idle glass will. And I know that we will have precisely the same debate several years from now when we pack up again.


And I bet  the same clutter follows us then too.





15 Responses to “Where are the Wombles when you need them?”

  1. Tom Says:

    If you need to know why we ALL do this, blame geology. Geology produced the first cave. Once our ancestors moved into the cave and saw it was nice and dry and warm they looked around and said to themselves- “What this place needs is some whiskey tumblers”. My ancestors wanted me to have lots of martini glasses, which I have dustilly collected in the upper cupboard.

  2. Almost American Says:

    We have a set of cut-glass tumblers (new in the box, never-used since receiving them as a wedding present from a relative) and the very long pencil too, along with all kinds of assorted junk. When we bought this house we did it with the intention of never having to move again. It is now dawning on me seven years later, that that means there will no longer be the excuse of moving to sort the junk and that I have to somehow keep doing it on a regular basis to keep it under control.

    I wonder how long it will take me before I will feel able to let go of the glasses? Maybe I will regift them. . . .

  3. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Tom: that’s hilarious: the mental picture your comment has formed in my mind: mr and mrs cave men armed with clubs, clothed in bear skins and sipping scotch malt from wexford cut glass! Cheers!

  4. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Hello Almost American – and thanks for reading. What a truly brilliant idea: xmas and wedding presents sorted for the next decade: my rubbish somebody else’s problem.

  5. Maggie May Says:

    Another descriptive post! Another move! I have boxes of things I will never use & things that my mother had that I can’t bear to throw out. Like you, I feel reading is a much more interesting thing to do and so is blogging! I resent anything that gets in the way!
    Heaven help anyone who has to clear up my stuff after I’m gone. I WILL get round to clearing it before then……. one day…..

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks Maggie May. I know: stuff our mothers and grandmothers passed onto us that we can’t bear to chuck out … when my mother moved she took the easy route and sent all her rubbish to me! I expect it’ll be my childrens’ headache one day!

  7. Rob Says:

    It seems to be one of the laws of the universe that matter expands to fill up any empty space available, and so it is with us humans. When starting off we move from flat to flat with all our things in the back of a Fiesta, then years later when we ugrade to a house, that too fills up, the attic fills up (with unused wedding presents and childhood mementos), garden shed(s) fill up within weeks. Every now and then someone deposits charity bags on the doorstep and our junk heads out to Africa and other places, to make a small space in the house/attic/shed to accumulate yet more junk… and so it continues. Good luck with the move.

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    brilliantly summarised as always darling Rob. succinct where i never manage to be; thank you. first lorry load departs tues and all i have managed today is to tidy one drawer and become distracted by music … xxx

  9. nuttycow Says:

    You’d be very proud of me too RM… I had a huge chuck out over the weekend. Clothes mainly. Haven’t worn it in a while? Out it goes.

    Of course this means that my wardrobe now consists of about 20 kikoys, work trousers and some jeans.

    I think I may need to go shopping.

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Clothes are great aren’t they though: i’m so old i have ghastly suits that i once wore to work in the city: shoulder pads and gilt buttons you could admire your reflection in! My girls giggle at them now. most have been tossed out. my wardrobe – like yours – is thousands of kikoys and lots of shorts … infinitely more useful than suits. and happier wearing.

  11. Roberta Says:

    My Mother-In-Law had a rule of thumb, “If it’s not used in the last two years, toss it or sell it.”

    However, cut crystal makes a great vessel for Iced Tea and apple juice, I’ve always contended.

  12. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    isn’t there one like that for clothes too, Roberta? If you haven’t worn it for a year, toss it out? if i did that, i’d have nothing to wear in the outside world except for shorts and flipflops!!

  13. Roberta Says:

    ~~~i’d have nothing to wear in the outside world except for shorts and flipflops!!~~~

    Well you do live in Africa, don’t you? I’ve read National Geographic!

    (I’m grinning evilly)

  14. lulu Says:

    You’re packing and I’m unpacking….I’m not sure which is worse. Trying to find places for far too many memories. My grandmother who was brought up in Africa also had all those cuttings…..in fact she swear she knew where the gun was hidden! Lx

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    i do Roberta, live in Africa … very, very, very rarely an evening dress is required. so rarely though that by the time i find mine either a rat’s made a hole in it or i am too fat for it!

    Lulu – my sympathies like with you too. i agree: which is the worse of two evils. The trying to find space … i am intrigued that your grandmother grew up here … where …? close by to know where the gun was hidden? a story of such decadent intrigue …

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: