Coke Adds Life



So. The big kids have gone back to school.



We drove them to the airport yesterday. Five hours there and five hours back. We stopped for a Coke Adds Life before the trip home. We sat on a beach overlooking Lake Victoria, sipping through straws. Hat said, ‘I feel like I’m at the sea’.  I knew what she meant. Miles of water and sky and a stretch of bone-bleached-white sand in front of us.



I hate it when the house empties of children.


When they were here – my seventeen year old almost 6 ft son, my just shy of 5’10” daughter (so that I wonder: was she really so ill as a baby I feared for her life and her doctors feared for her growth?) – the house felt too small. Long limbs flailed across floors, were sprawled on sofas. Wet towels were strewn. The television clamoured with the stereo for attention. There were loud arguments over what to watch: test matches vying hotly with romantic comedies.


Now it feels huge, rattling-around huge.


When they first return to school, my big kids, I cannot bring myself to go into their bedrooms. I can still smell them there. The clothes they wore the last day of half term are still scattered across their floors.


‘Bloody well pick your stuff up’, I’d have said.


Now I just close the door. I’ll pick it up later. When the emptiness isn’t so palpable.  Their clothes can stay where they are. Limp reminders that they were here.




Sometimes I worry when the big kids are home.


Are you bored, I ask? Do you mind being in the Outpost?


Part of me wants them to say yes. Part of me wants their alliance.


No, it’s fine they say.  ‘For a bit’, they add loyally, when they see my face.


They sleep late. Raid the fridge. Swim. We play rowdy games of cards, shrieking and laughing and fighting. Sometimes we play them and candlelight flickers across our hands, which we must hold tilted to the sputtering glow so that we can decipher: is that a 7 of spades or a 7 of clubs?


And we go to the dam. We do that a lot. Dogs, kids, us, a cool box of cold drinks. A bottle of chilled Frascati.


I watch my daughters walk alongside their father. I wonder what they are talking about.




 Mongoose, says Hat, when I ask her: ‘Dad was telling me about mongoose’. He had one, as a pet, growing up. The girls badger him constantly for one of their own. The dogs frighten a band back down their sandy anthilled home. I can hear them complaining indignant beneath my feet, I imagine what their high-pitched chattering translates as, ‘Bugger off you filthy great brutes, get lost!’


My son peels off on his own. With his dog, into the bush. The shrub swallows him quickly. One minute he’s there, the next he has quite vanished. I imagine he watches our progress from his hide, I can hear him slicing the undergrowth with a stick. And he hears me when I holler, ‘Want a coke Ben?’ and my voice rings around the dam and bounces off the kopjes that frame it, ‘Wannacokeben, wannacokeben’. He reappears then, instantly, as if by magic.


We sit and sip. Again. And watch the sun slip behind its western bedtime horizon. The water is sundowner pink-gin and the cotton wool ball clouds turn orange and the sky hangs onto snatches of blue until the last, last moment. A beautiful sunset. We murmur our applause so that the heavens will know their colourful display has not been in vain.  Somebody was watching.



“How many photos of Outpost sunsets do you think you’ve taken Mum?”


I couldn’t begin to count. I keep taking them. In case I miss the one I oughtn’t.


The sun has gone and from the east the drawing of a blanket of darkness is visible, as if it is being rolled out above our heads. The moon hangs high, suspended like a giant reading lamp above the earth and it begins to soft-glow. The insect world stirs slowly, shy clicks and whispers, ‘anybody up yet?’, and the quelea in the reed islands are trying to go to sleep if only somebody would stop talking.




Husband says, ‘You need to look at Outpost living through jar-half-full eyes’.


I agree.


And you, I tell him, need to regard me in similar light.


I am trying.


Perhaps I should drink more Coke?




27 Responses to “Coke Adds Life”

  1. Mud Says:

    You really should write a book RM, I’ve got misty eyes just reading that. Your house must be full of love and laughter, albeit emptier than it has been. Those ‘all together times’ will feel ever sweeter because of their brevity – but just think of all those families, all on top of each other all the time, who ahve no idea of the value of those relationships. Sad.

  2. Roberta Says:

    I don’t understand why my eyes are watering. I had to sit here a moment, blinking back tears and looking at those beautiful pictures.

    The richness of your life is so tenderly written it can touch the heart of a woman a world away.

    Thank you so much for sharing your life with us.

  3. nuttycow Says:

    The kids sound like they had a fantastic half term. As Mud says, and as I can testify, you remember those moments when you’re older. I have very fond memories of doing exactly the same with my parents when I came home on half term. I’d give anything to do it now!

  4. Irene Says:

    Yes, your stories must be collected into a book. I am not a sentimental fool and I am not a great one for tearjerkers, but that is not what these stories are all about. They are well written and honest and have just the right amount of melancholy to touch your heart. They are also cynical and humorous enough not to get too melodramatic. You do a great deal of reflecting all on your own and that is very admirable and it is lovely to see it in your writing.

  5. Expat Mum Says:

    When we leave England after a long visit every summer, my mother has to be phoned, entertained and otherwise distracted for a week after. She can’t bear to go into “our rooms”. Apparently the feeling never goes away.

  6. lulu Says:

    OH NO! But they only just arrived!! Where did the time go….lovely lovely photos Lx

  7. Janelle Says:

    ooooooooooooooooooooooooh…my chest tightens reading about the clothes and the empty house and you closing the door…eish….waaaaaah….lovely lovely post anthea…and beautiful pictures…and all so poignant and real…lots lots love xx janelle

  8. Millennium Housewife Says:

    You really do have a wondrful way with words. I am already missing my grown up children – they’re 4 and 1…But you evoked it so beautifully. Seriously, why don’t you approach and agent with this? MH

  9. kitschen pink Says:

    OOh! I’d like to come along for a cold frascati one time – but really – aren’t there snakes?
    The children will be home for Christmas soon!

  10. guineapigmum Says:

    Hang on in there… it’s not long until Christmas!

  11. Iota Says:

    I join the clamour urging you to write a book. Not least because then there’d be a book tour, and you’d come to England, maybe the States, and we’d all get to meet you. Our local bookstore does lots of author readings, and the cafe serves a great cappuccino. I’ll stand you a muffin too.

  12. QldDeb Says:

    I’ve just discovered your website and read it from start to finish. I agree with the other commenters (is that a word?), this stuff really needs to be published. The way you write spurs me on to actually start posting in my own blog (which I have been very slack with!).

    I live in North Queensland, Australia and I used to live in the outback (Mt Isa) so I have a bit of an understanding of the majesty/isolation of a vast country like Africa. A friend has just returned from their and commented how similar it is to our country. Your home sounds amazing, and the colours are almost too stunning to look at.

    My daughter is 15yrs old and quickly moving away from me. It is sad. But I keep telling myself it is just time for the next adventure, I just don’t know what the next adventure is yet. My dream is to buy a fancy 4WD camping trailer and become a snail, with my home on my back, cruising around my beautiful country.

    Anyway, enough rambling, I just wanted to let you know that I love your blog, and keep up the good work.

  13. rosiero Says:

    I agree – here is a book in the making. You have a wonderful way with words and your experiences are worth telling.

    “Five hours there and five hours back ” – makes my school run look pathetic!! And I know exactly what you mean when your child goes away for a while and you cannot bear to go in their room.

  14. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks Mud, you’re right of course: about understanding to appreciate the time we have together.

    Thank you Roberta.

    I hope my kids remember them fondly then nutty: i hope they don’t remember mad old harridan harping about having to live in an outpost!

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Irene, high praise and I am very flattered. Not at all sure I deserve it. as to the book … that’s a whole new kind of energy isn’t it?

    No Expat Mum: i don’t suppose it does. Not matter how old I am, no matter how old my kids are, I’ll still be mum

    thanks Janelle. hope to see you soon x

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Just make the very most of the 4yo and the one yo. And even then, alas, you will miss them greatly. They really do just grow up far too fast.

    kitschen pink: oh but do, do! I’m very careful about snakes now. I never walk in the grass and i plant myself and my bottle on the sand where i can see for miles around me and have plenty of advance warning should something come slithering in my direction. Yes. Christmas soon …

  17. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    No, GPM it’s not, you’re right … x

    Iota, that’d be lovely, lovely: the muffin, the capuccino, the people to meet … but I fear agents and publishers would beg to differ. I am neither brilliant enough a writer nor silione enhanced enough a footballer’s wife …

  18. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    QldDeb – thanks for dropping by. I liked your idea of travelling snail like with everything you needed on your back. Your daugther will bounce back to you. They do. Meantime take the opportunity to play at snails?

    rosiero – actually the school run is ten hours there and ten hours back. That was cheating: that was merely the airport run!

  19. nappy valley girl Says:

    Wonderful post. It made me quite emotional thinking of how my mum must have felt when I was away at boarding school. I was so busy resenting my parents for sending me away that I never stopped to think how lonely she must have been…

  20. David Noble Says:


    Sorry for contacting you this way instead of by email. Presently, I am inviting educators (including parents) who have experience of using the ’social web’ to participate in my 3-year doctoral research into this way of sharing, discussing etc. One East Lothian, Scotland parent who has signed-up to the research, guineapigmum, mentioned your blog

    If this is something that you might be interested in taking part in, please send your email to and I will forward the introductory letter and audio file.

    David Noble

  21. Filling Empty Jars « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] Reluctant Memsahib the diary of wife, mother and failed domestic goddess in Africa « Coke Adds Life […]

  22. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    me too nappy, i only began to reflect on what my parents must have felt when i had to parcel my own children off.

  23. Kathleen Says:

    Went to visit our son at his university last weekend. He is 23 and in his last year, I cried when we drove away to come back home. I suppose I’ll never get past that point.

  24. nappy valley girl Says:

    Hello again – hope you don’t mind but have linked to you on my blog as this post inspired me to write something about my time at boarding school…..hopefully your kids are far happier there than I was…….x

  25. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    oh Kathleen. i suppose none of us ever really do though. x

    hello nappy – thank you for that. i think my kids are happy. i think they are happier about it than me. which oddly helps. if i know that and i know i can manage, i’m assured they can too! x

  26. Gill Says:

    I know how you feel you know………I know you’re thinking, yeah right. Both our kids went away to university at the same time. One day there is a house full of people, the kids and their friends, the next day it was just me and dh………

    Ds was 19 and dd was 17. I cried something rotten when they left, the pain in my stomach was awful. I was like you, I could “smell” the kids everywhere. Dd room was a nightmare and like you I closed the door and decided to deal with it later.

    The one thing I can tell you it gets easier with them coming and going, and it has brought me and dh closer………..I still miss them though, especially ds as he is much further away.

    Gill in Canada

  27. Susanna (A Modern Mother) Says:

    Yes, the world through half full eyes. How much happier we all would be!

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