New Flavours



So, we went away.


And we came home. Ten hard hours. 


And as we bounced over roads rutted by rain and dry and rain and dry and overloaded lorries and leaning, leering buses, I clung to the optimism spawned of Change.


I saw my children. I think I cried. I had my hair done, painted my toe nails pillar box red, wore more than just yesterday’s shorts. Laughed with friends. Drank wine.  They told me I was brave. That they couldn’t do what I do. I told them they could. And with infinitely more grace. They were lying. But it made me feel better all the same. And braver.


And slowly the layers of confusion and sadness peeled away, like onion skins.  So that I cried a little more; onions can do that to you. But there was release in the shedding. A newer, brighter me. A tiny epiphany. Scales stripped from eyes jaded after too much dust, too many days of unchanging vistas.


I’m going to do something else, I thought. I’m going to Make a different kind of Jam.


And not just because a literary agent pronounced my writing Monotonous and Narcissistic.


Oh. I said. Then, Ouch!, I reeled.  (And I might have cried a bit more).  And finally: oh fuck. Who cares. What wonder that my days, which morph when Outpost bound one into the other so that I can remember little between them other than how I felt. Except Hot, Lonely, Frustrated. When the substance of your life distils to the tiny space mine occupies it is hard to remember to look beyond your boundaries; you go round and round in circles, whipping the days to a viscosity until it feels as if you are wading through molasses. Self absorbed and tedious? Quite possibly. 


Will I be tightly clutching the same courage a week from now? Who knows.


We went from one Outpost to – having kissed my babies goodbye again and sent them back to school, having dispatched Hat to friends so that she could hone her socialization skills (Socialization skills? Whose vernacular is peppered with such phrases? That of those who are constant in their suspicion of the reckless, feckless amongst us who home school their children, that’s who. As if we might lock them up in a dark cupboard and instruct them to learn and until they do, we will withhold conversation and hugs and lying on a bed together in the swampy afternoon heat reading in companionable, close silence) – to another.


Another Outpost. I was dubious. What purpose will more isolation serve, I asked a friend. ‘Change’, she said, wisely.


Three days in a piece of Africa still so close to the way Nature – or God or Mother Earth or whichever deity had the dexterity of fingers and purity of vision to create – intended that I suddenly knew everything was going to be alright. Was it because I lived not far from there as a little girl? The red soil, blue skies, sage-grey acacia a reassuringly familiar palate of childish colour.  A railway ripped through here at the turn of the last century – a Lunatic Line they called it – I grew up beside it, tales of maneaters thrilled me by day and kept me awake at night.  Lusty maned lion plucked off the poor imported Indian labour laying the line.  Their feline descendants – sixty years later – plucked off our cattle.  And my pony.  The only one I ever owned; a deal brokered between my parents and the mare’s owners. Livery in exchange for a foal. One that I never got to ride.

We slept under a sky littered so generously with stars that it looked as if the angels had flung a jar of multicoloured commas and semi colons and brightly surprised neon exclamation marks across the heavens.  We lay on sun baked sand that still grasped enough of the early evening heat to warm our backs and we star-gazed. Husband said, because he had done the same in exactly this spot as a child, ‘if you are patient, you’ll see a shooting star’.


But my reserves of patience, alas, do not match my fear for snakes and scorpions.


I could not lie long enough for the shooting stars.


A shame. I could have stolen a wish from the inky blue. Wished on a star as it trail-blazed across that big domed African night.


It’s all big out there: big unbridled, shameless Africa. Big skies, big baobab festooned with big, fat tissue-fragile blossoms. Blooms that live for a single day in a year. Perhaps that was as good as a wish I told myself: to stumble upon such rare flowering. I shielded my eyes with the flattened palm of a hand and I gazed to far, far horizons, enormous, embracing views.



We talked. We walked. We trod carefully, mindful of hippo – whose tracks mapped journeys of night-time foraging along the river’s banks – of crocodile – which lay sunbathing on rocks – of elephant that crashed through the undergrowth on the opposite bank at night. 




And at dawn when the jaundiced bark of Fever Trees glowed yellow and the doum palm fronds rattled a papery tune, I sipped tea sweetened with wood smoke and I watched a host of lion ants frantically rebuilding homes beneath the sand so that grainy plumes of dust were evicted, every few seconds, with synchronized precision. I sat on my haunches, mug cradled between my hands, eyes trained to the busy ground beneath bare feet.


Until I saw a scorpion. And then I stood up.


How does Africa do that? How does she – with space and light and birdsong and the eternal chatter of cicadas – hypnotize you so that you forget you ever had a worry? How does she, with her patient, listening silence massage your self doubt like tired shoulders so that you are able suddenly to roll them languidly and shrug it all off? No matter what the All is.



Because she’s bigger than you are, that’s why. So big, she reminds you of how small you are.  An oddly reassuring prompt when life overwhelms you. You’re not supposed to be invincible.


So. Perspective altered. A new recipe to hand.  And I’m back. A little bolder, I hope.


And with prettier toe nails.










29 Responses to “New Flavours”

  1. Mom de Plume Says:

    Great to have you back!!! Glad you have had such a fantastic time away and have come back feeling revived and ready to try again! May I suggest you find a new literary agent because the one you mention obviously has envy issues or lacks the ability to recognise a good thing when she sees it!!!! I look forward to seeing how the new recipe unfurls.

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Mom d P: you are too kind. Thank you. yup, new recipe exciting, hope i don’t burn myself … x

  3. nuttycow Says:

    Welcome back RM – we’ve missed you! New recipe sounds interesting… can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

    Re: literary agent. Pah! I’ll be your agent, we’ll go into business together and this time next year Rodders, we’ll be millionaires.

    Love to the family. xx

  4. Retired Memsahib Says:

    Your writing is most certainly NOT Monotonous and Narcissistic! What a fool that so called literary agent must be. Remember, the Beatles were turned down by every recoding company until they managed one small break through. What a flop they turned out to be!! Please don’t give up. Your writing so beautifully desrcibes the love hate relationship that so many of us have with Africa. Get a new agent at once!

    By the way, the sandy beeches around Lake Malawi are perfect for watching shooting stars.

  5. Paradiselostintranslation Says:

    My husband always says that to me about shooting stars too. I saw my 1st on the shores of Lake Malawi actually! Welcome back.

  6. Potty Mummy Says:

    I know you don’t think this, but you really are amazing, RC. And like your friends, I couldn’t do it. But you do. So, however you feel, know as well that you ARE amazing. And so is your writing. I will be sending a bat to fly up the nightdress of that agent, whoever it is…

  7. rosiero Says:

    Don’t they recognise excellent writing when it is leaping out of the page??

  8. R. Sherman Says:

    I’ve missed your musings. Welcome back.


  9. Janelle Says:

    oh why oh why didn;t i see you when you came through arusha?? how was the halloween party? you see. you think you live on the edge? you’re in the middle darling, the middle!! oh yeah. stuff that literary agent…bollox! xx

  10. Iota Says:

    Monotonous and what? Bollocks.

    I wonder what the new jam is, though.

  11. Rob (Inukshuk Adventure) Says:

    Nice to have you back and pleased to read of good times with your kids and the world at large away from The Outpost.

  12. Mud Says:

    That’s beautiful “And at dawn when the jaundiced bark of Fever Trees glowed yellow and the doum palm fronds rattled a papery tune, I sipped tea sweetened with wood smoke” – reading that I was there, crouched by your feet, absorbed in the vitality and timelessness of Africa.

    Thanks for lending me a little of your perspective.

  13. lulu Says:

    Welcome back. Gorgeous photos Lx

  14. Gillian Says:

    Hello again, welcome back. What is it about quiet time together? How does that work? I guess it works when there’s no work to do, and that doesn’t happen at home when you’re surrounded by reminders of things to do. For me anyway.

    I remember when my kids were little we visited the Blue Mountains west of Sydney where the stars are brighter than in the city. At night we put a blanket out on the grass and lay there looking up and eating Mars bars. And telling stories about Greek gods.

    Now this is one of my memory-treasures. I hope your recent star gaze becomes one of your enduring memory treasures too.

  15. nappy valley girl Says:

    The agent is plain wrong. Your writing is a hell of a lot better than much of the rubbish that gets published these days…….don’t let it get to you!

  16. Roberta Says:

    Time away always gives one a new prespective. I hope you hold on to this one and don’t get bogged down in the day to day of things.

    On a literary note: Fire the agent and get one that knows what they are talking about.

    The photographs are wonderful!!

  17. The boisterous Butterfly Says:

    Don’t believe that agent one tiny little bit. You roar off the page with feeling, but with finesse and elegance. Like an exotic beast of Africa. What does he know?

    I hope you see many shooting stars and wish upon every one of them and have every one come true. Remember who you are in the deepest part of your heart.

  18. Expat Mum Says:

    Certainly not monotonous, but isn’t all autobiographical writing a little narcissistic? (In a nice way?) Otherwise why would be bother to write about ourselves. Stupid comment really and totally irrelevant to what makes good reading. It’s his/her loss.

  19. daisyfae Says:

    your writing is honest and existential… an active mind, inquisitive and restless, and residing in a place that provides the ultimate challenge to a restless mind – the challenge of exploring your own inner space. don’t be discouraged by a single opinion.

  20. kitschen pink Says:

    One literary agent does not a sensible or rational or believable or agreeable or accurate or even very likeable opinion make! Get a new agent. One day we’ll read a lovely story about how some klutz turned you down in the days before the world learned to love your writing.
    I’m glad you mentioned about Africa calming your worries. I never read your posts without thinking constantly ooh snakes, arrgh lions, yikes creepy nasty scary things. Clearly the reality is much more manageable…. or is it just that your friends were not lying at all! t.xx

  21. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks nutty: new recipe still being stirred. as to the agent, thanks for the support! x

    retired mem: thank you. paradiselostintranslation mentions sandy beaches around l.malawi too. I was only there once, in ”winter”, howling gales throwing sand into our faces, and fat clouds scudding across a sky. no shooting stars then, alas.

    thank you paradise x

    Potty you are too kind. And i’m not. amazing. generally i am utterly graceless and ill-humoured about the whole thing. but thanks for pretending i’m not xx

  22. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you rosiero, that’s very kind.

    And Mr S.

    Janelle – i was sad to miss you too. halloween party was fun. i was draculas victim with fake blood all over my forehead. looked like somebody had thrown me thru a window. husband was a tree. or a commando in camo, or the jolly green giant, or shrek … nobody could quite decide x

  23. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Iota. isn’t bollocks such a wondeful word? so expressive. sort of know what flavour new jam is going to be but haven’t yet hit upon the perfect recipe. nervous. am i too old to learn new tricks?

    thanks Rob – it was great to see my kids and get away, fortify me for next Outpost incarceration.

    Thank you Mud – it was beautiful, the whole thing.

    hence the pix – thanks Lulu, easy to take lovely pictures where subject so stunning.

  24. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you for reading, Gillian. Funny how the simplest stuff can morph as the perfect, the best, memory fodder? did your children, i wonder, imagine that they could see gilded greek gods sitting amongst the stars as they ate their chocolate. how lovely.

    thank you nappy. but i fear alot of it is about demand. what people WANT to read. this isn’t it for most xx

  25. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks Roberta, yup going to hang onto it. that’s the thing isn’t it, as you say, about time away. realigns perspective. change.

    Butterfly, what praise. i don’t deserve such flattery. often i have to hone my fury/isolation/sheer bloody mindedness carefully before i put fingers to keyboard or i’d deliver an inarticualte rant. it’s why, as janelle at ngorobobhillhouse comments, never blog with wine!

    absolutely Expat Mum, it is, of course, by virtue of its genre. you sound like my eldest daughter, ”in a good way, mum, in a good way”!

  26. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you daisyfae. certainly the isolation prompts the words. talking to myself. in my head. and all of you, thank god. So i’m not completely nuts! x

    kitschen – thank you. but it does, africa frequently calms me. those big vistas and a quiet that bristles with birds and insects. so that you tip the contents of your mind out and just allow it to fill with sound and sky and silence.

  27. carol Says:

    What fantastic photos – good to have you back writing and as everyone has already said ‘dont listen to that agent’. All comments posted here should let you know just how many of us appreciate your blog and miss it (or you I should say) when you are not at home writing…. Well done! And I’m sure that Hat was great at the ‘socialization skills’

  28. Tash Says:

    Personally, I think you should do it without an agent. Okay – so I haven’t had any success doing that yet! but, I do believe one day I will, and I think you, deep down, honestly believe in yourself more than any agent will. You know you’re good – and on days you don’t – you have us here to tell you you are. But – having said that, try a different flavour – for a while – and keep on blogging while you do. I have so much faith in your writing I still believe that one day the right publisher will find you. And I also have faith in a rest being as good as a change – in a few months, you probably won’t be able to resist having another go – and, if I were you, I’d do it alone. Who needs agents… When they don’t get you anywhere anyway, and you have – indisputably (or should that be undisputedly?) – HUGE talent…. By the way – glorious pictures… And in the next post too. Lovely. will write very soon xx

  29. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks Carol – they are lovely aren’t they. good camera and great location. nothing to do with me. as for socialization – yup, think they’re razor sharp now! x

    Tash – you overestimate me! i have run out of steam. but i won’t stop writing. i love my blog and the encouragment i get here is hugely rewarding and sustaining. i take no less time or care over a single post than i would a commissioned story. for me its the words that count and it is important to polish them up as best i can before i put them out there. i’ll never stop loving it. but i am glad to think i can give myself a break from the self-flagellation of trying to get published and of permanent pitching xx

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: