Filling Empty Jars



Hat has a geography project.


Identify two or three microclimates in your garden and describe them, her teacher instructs: rainfall, wind speed, temperature.


Her teacher lives on the autumnal Welsh borders. She sends a photograph of her own garden (‘Look, Mum, isn’t it pretty’, says Hat, her mouth wide open in reaction to images of green lawns and voluptuous herbaceous borders spilling unrestrained from their beds) and she describes the microclimates that it presumably hosts: one bank is quite sheltered, she writes, another is very exposed – that gets frost, even now. One side of the driveway is in full sun and the spring flowers there come out much earlier than they do on the opposite, more shaded, much colder, side.


Hat has closed her mouth. Her delighted expression is beginning to collapse into visible disappointment.


What shall I write about, Mum? She asks worriedly, ‘we don’t have microclimates, we only have hot’.


No, no I say to her (Jar half full, jar half full, jar half full I repeat mantra like to myself), we’ve got lots of microclimates in our garden.


Hat looks doubtful.


Think of two, I tell her (I can. Just. Sort of. If we tweak the definition of microclimate a little).


Oh, she says, suddenly brightening, ‘out there on the lawn’ (she means the old smoker’s head we optimistically call a lawn: all nicotine-stained balding stubble) ‘and …’.  She deliberates a moment more, ‘Over there, under the trees, where there’s some shade and a bit of grass, where your pot plants live’.


The ones that weren’t burned alive in the fire.


Clever girl, I tell her.


‘Shall we make an anemometer?’ she asks; her Welsh-border-living-mirco-climate-aplenty teacher has helpfully provided us with instructions to make our own. Using a protractor and a ping pong ball. (I bet she can make a Lear jet out of a toothpick and a box of matches too?)


No, I say to Hat, let’s not bother, ‘I don’t think we get enough wind in this garden for it to register on an anemometer’. Nor do we have a ping pong ball. And it is not likely I will find one in the Outpost either.


What shall we do then? wails poor Hat.


We’ll measure their different temperatures instead, I tell her.


Can we? Really? She asks excitedly.


‘Course we can’. And I gather up my free-with-a-bottle-of-Calpol ear thermometer and we set off into the hot sunshine beating down on the old smoker’s head.


I turn the thermometer on. It bleeps once to indicate it’s doing its job and then it begins to bleep feverishly over and over, louder and louder, and the words Hi, Hi, Hi flash up on the screen.


As in high, high, high, I assume, not hello, hello, hello.


‘I think’, Hat observes sagely, ‘that it’s telling you your patient is about to die’.


Too late. Already quite dead judging by the look of it. Warning: smoking kills.


Let’s try sticking it into the sand, Hat suggests.


We do.


Hi, hi, hi it screams, objecting even more hysterically to the febrile environment we have thrust it into.


Undeterred we decide to measure the temperature of our alternative microclimate.


We walk towards it and as we approach the shade, the thermometer briefly obliges: 38.4 degrees it tells us.


Ensconced beneath the cool dappled dark thrown by the few surviving trees at the bottom of the garden, where the pot plants are trying to recover their recent trauma, we try again.


Lo, lo, lo gasps the bloody free-with-a-bottle-of-Calpol offering.


It can’t be too cold, cries Hat.

It’s not, I explain, it’s merely below normal body temperature. Which is still bloody hot if you’re standing outside.


After half an hour of pacing about and being howled at digitally, we give up.


We’ll just guess, I tell Hat: 42 degrees in the sun, 35 in the shade.


Hat looks doubtful. Hat does not like cheating. And she does not tell fibs. Unlike her mother.


I’ll measure the rain instead, she says.


I cast my eyes up towards a sky utterly, utterly devoid of a single cloud.


I don’t say anything.


She disappears into the kitchen and returns with two recently emptied jam jars.  She places one in one of our microclimates, one in another.


“There”, she says, and she steps back to admire her handiwork and await the rain.  


I watch her later, unseen, from a window. She is inspecting them, adjusting them a little.


Her jars are quite empty and already they are half full.



20 Responses to “Filling Empty Jars”

  1. Irene Says:

    A child can be such an idealistic optimist that by simply wishing it, she will make it come true, she thinks. I hope her disappointment won’t be too great and that another part of the project will be equally exciting to her. What is that Welsh school teacher thinking anyway?

  2. Mud Says:

    Hat’s garden might not have microclimates as fascinating as the Welsh teacher, but I’d bet that it has much more interesting bugs. She is you can wangle that into the biology/ecology aspect of the lesson – Outpost spiders will trump Welsh earwigs pretty damn quickly!

  3. rosiero Says:

    Ah bless. This made me laugh so much, but I also feel so much for Hat’s disappointment. I do hope her glass is half-full (of rain, that is) soon.

  4. tamara Says:

    Oh this post is wonderful, reminded me so much of my childhood. My mother homeschooled us with a UK based correspondence course (Worldwide Education Service) and they also had rather mismatched nature lessons. Perhaps my ‘observe the world around you’ reports seemed like the product of an overactive imagination (rhinos, elephants) but they were all true! And I think they did allow for a bit of local variety. Bless her enthusiasm. We did have a spot of rain last night, here in the south where we’ve been so thirsty for it. Just 5 minutes, but still…

  5. teaandadventures Says:

    Your writing is utterly absorbing – I’m trying my hardest not to spend my day trawling through your archives when really I should be working.
    I don’t envy Hat her project – I don’t think I’d be able to do it in my tiny British garden either – but I hope she has some success with her jars, or at least that she doesn’t feel too disappointed.

  6. nuttycow Says:

    Oh Hat! Clever girl for figuring out micro-climates. Is the dam nearby? Might that count as another one? I do hope it rains just a little bit for her. If not, could you measure the humidity (or is dry heat?). I’m with Mud though, I think a study on the different insects and birds in her microclimates would be much more interesting. Good luck!

  7. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thanks Irene. I think that’s what being a child is all about: wishing and knowing it’s going to come true …

    Ooooh yes, Mud: there was a fearsome looking brute in the pool the other day: he’d built his web on the lilo. Hat climbed onto it and climbed off jolly fast, she came racing in to tell me, ”and it only took him since the last time i was in the pool’. I am afraid we evicted him.

  8. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    so do I, rosiero, so do I …

    Thank you tamara, yes I bet: i bet far flung teachers sniff with some derision at precocious children who think they’ve seen cackling hyena srace across the main road as they embark on a siblings school run … as we did on tuesday. Hat suggested she could just refer teacher to this post. I suggested, given my comments on aircraft construction, that it might not be prudent …

  9. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you teaandadventures, that’s very kind. I love the pictures on your site: quite beautiful.

    nutty: alas the dam is too far. and no humidity. we are bone dry. this is the only place i have watched a banana dessicate. not rot. dessicate. rather like me. yes, we shall have to introduce a different dimension to our microclimates: lion ants and hairy spiders i think …

  10. Iota Says:

    I think this post is brilliant. Real jars, metaphorical jars, half full. You’re so clever. And funny – I love the picture of you both pottering around the garden with a thermometer.

    One of our children (won’t say which) is a bit of a glass-half-empty person by nature. We once put a half-filled glass of water in front of him and asked “is that half empty or half full?” He looked at it carefully and then said “well it’s not even half full is it?”. He was right. In our laziness, we’d filled it about a third full. Is there a personality type for “not even half full” and is that more or less optimistic than “half empty” do you think?

  11. Expat Mum Says:

    Oy, it’s hot.

  12. Rob (Inukshuk Adventure) Says:

    Oh I’m having a good giggle at this post. I grew up in HOT Africa and I’ve lived in Burry Port in Wales for 3 years and know all too well the bloody micro climates – cold and damp, cold and wet, dark and damp and one spot that got some sun, every alternate Tuesday in summer or August as it’s alternatively called there! Perhaps Hat could do a study in dust accumulation?

    Oh and I love the idea of the friendly thermometer offering salutations.

  13. Roberta Says:

    Hat has inspired me to look at the glass half full. Wonderful post!

    P.S. I think The Good Woman has had her baby! She hasn’t posted in a while. I hope all is well!

  14. Lisa Lawrence Says:

    Maybe the teacher in Wales (was it?) could tweak the course for poor Hat. There does seem to be a dearth of ‘variables’ in the outpost.

  15. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Iota. I loved your story. Hat asked me yesterday: is a zebra a white animal with black stripes or a black one with white. I said black with white stripes. You’re a pessimist, she announced. She says it’s a white one with black stripes. She’s an optimist apparently. No suprises there then.

  16. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    i think that ”not even half full” is definiately sign of an optimist. a rather tentative one, yes, but an optimist nonetheless, no doubt. x

  17. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    absolutley expatmum: oy, it’s hot. that should just about do it.

    it was friendly, Rob, wasn’t it. Dust accumulation would be good. if she could just keep up with it …

    ooooh, Roberta, i wonder? how exciting …

  18. Rob Says:

    Had tears in my eyes from lauging so much, what a good start to the weekend. Thanks.

  19. kitschen pink Says:

    Oh bless her dear little heart! I’m laughing my socks off here! Tell her it’s not just the outpost – have a similar problem – Wet and soggy, windy and cold. Wet and soggy, windy and cold. Everywhere! We could just measure the depth of the puddles! Glass half full indeed!

  20. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks Rob xx

    Kitschen – thank you! thank you! hat’s jars still on the ”lawn”. still waiting for that rain … everytime i see them i giggle. so empty jars filling mine too x

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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: