Keeping up with the Joneses






There is a Flamboyant tree over the fence, in next door’s garden.


It is laden with blossom, so laden that not a trace of green is visible.


It’s bleeding colour into my garden, staining crimson the caramel sand.


There is a Flamboyant tree outside my verandah.


It was sickly when I arrived in this house. A headstrong, loudly purple bougainvillea had clambered up its trunk and was slowly strangling the life out of it with cruelly twisting fingers.


I cut the bougainvillea down. I felt no remorse as I hacked it to the ground where its remains lay spitefully spiking my bare feet with hidden thorns for weeks.  I still didn’t feel any remorse. I just hopped and cursed.  Excuse my French I used to say. Until Hat began to learn the language, ‘That’s not French, mama!’, she reprimanded sternly, ‘I know better now’, she added.


I watched the Flamboyant anxiously then. I scattered fertilizer at its base. Poured precious water onto the earth embracing its tired old roots. I feared the bougainvillea might have maliciously dragged it to its own similar fate.


But slowly, slowly tiny, tiny shoots of green began to appear. Just one or two at first. They yawned and stretched and unfurled as long feathery leaves.





I watched next door’s burst into flower. An unashamed Scarlet Lady.


My own tree seemed content to gently busy itself with a more demure outfit of lime coloured lace.


Until two days ago. The first bloom.


I like to think I coaxed it there, that my patient urging ignited the brilliant red.


But I suspect it’s suddenly woken up and could not bear to be outdone by the Joneses?




The telly went on the blink.

I would like to pretend I am so cerebral I would not miss the telly for a few days.

I am not. And I do. Especially because I live in an Outpost. Especially when Husband has abandoned Hat and I. On those days, especially, which become taut and seamless in their longevity, I miss the telly. I want to punctuate long days’ ends by escaping into BBC Prime. I want Sky to deliver to my tiny little world its own bigger one.

So I began to stalk television technician, Raju.

After two days he succumbed to my texted pleas.

He arrived. It was late. I was in my pajamas.

He tried to make the telly work. (I hovered anxiously. So did Hat. ”Will we miss My Family again?”, she asked.)

”I need to collect something from my house”, announced Raju, ”to make this work” (he gestured at offending appliance).

Ok. I said.

”Do you drive, mama?”

Yes, bewildered.

”I do not have enough diesel in my car to get me there and back again”, he explained.  ”Can you take me?”

I was desperate. Hat too.


So it was I found myself driving Television Technician Raju around the Outpost late at night in my pajamas and slippers with a gleeful Hat on the back seat, texting her distant father, ”We are driving Rajoo around in our pajamas trying to get the telly mended”.

I discovered – during our foray out – that Raju was born in the Outpost, that his father, a goldsmith, came here from India during early gold mining hay-days, that his wife is from the Gujarat.

He discovered that my mother was born in Bombay, that she lived less than 100 miles from here as a child. A small neat symmetry I thought.

Later, much later, ensconced in front of Prime, glass of wine in hand, Hat deliciously curled up on the sofa demanding, ”what shall we watch next Ma?” and Raju/Rajoo presumably safely back home and quite pleased to be shot of me, I considered that my neighbours’ wives (spouses to – on one side – a local judge and – on the other – the Regional Commissioner) probably don’t run around an Outpost after dark clad in their nightwear.

But then perhaps they don’t have tellies to break down either?

19 Responses to “Keeping up with the Joneses”

  1. Pig in the kitchen Says:

    So excited about your tree (is is a tree isn’t it?), i’m so useless with plants, I live vicariously thru other people’s successes. I was very pleased to see you describe your husband as having ‘abandoned’ you…pleased that I’m not the only one to see it for what it is, abandonment!

    and fab story about the telly, Hat will be so happy with her childhood when she’s older.

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Pig – it is a tree. a lovely tree. quite splendid at this time of year as it blushes expectantly, waiting for rain. and here’s to all of us who tolerate spousal abandonment. make something delicious and send it my way, will you. your site is scumptious x

  3. Roberta Says:

    Is this the same tree with the enormous snake ? Beautiful! I got a nice chuckle about the pajama foray into the Outpost. I would have done the same thing!

  4. rosiero Says:

    Such a gorgeous tree and well done for rekindling life into it. I had to laugh at Hat missing My Family. I tend to think of you quite cut-off from civilisation and was surprised that you can get BBC television, but that is modern life for you…. the Internet and satellite TV make the world a much smaller place.

  5. rosiero Says:

    PS. I have an award for you.

  6. Iota Says:

    My Family is that kind of tv which I don’t know whether to love or hate. I watch it, laugh and then think “well, that was a waste of a half-hour”. Now I can think “…but at least they watch it in Outpost”.

  7. R. Sherman Says:

    Congrats on the success of both quests: Tree and Television.


  8. Tash Says:

    keeping up with the joneses – what a lovely concept. Now each time I see the jacarandas on one side of St Austins in flower, and the other side still in leaf, as sometimes happens, I’ll think of the Joneses. You are flippin clever you know

  9. Mozi Esmes Mommy Says:

    I love those trees! And I’m glad your TV is up and running again… 🙂

  10. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Roberta. Nope. No snakes (I hope). Occassionally see the odd spider. but no snakes. glad i’m not the only one with a penchant to trot about in the dark in my nightwear with strange men!

    rosiero – i know, weird isn’t it. so near nad so far. all at the same time. takes me ten hours to drive to anywhere and two days to fly to my kids but i can txt my eldest daughter and we can be chatting on msn within minutes. thank god. x thank you for my lovely award. i think it underlines the value of blogging.

    i know what you mean, Iota. Hat’s watching it now. as i write. i can hear that idiot ben harper wittering complainingly. i do like Nick though. he reminds us – in this family – of our own eldest. ours has same big smile. but more brains!

    thanks Mr Sherman – yup, both feel like little successes, especially the tree.

    thank you Tash. I’m not clever at all: it’s the first thought that came to mind, my tree finally realising she (had to be a she!) simply could not bear to be outshone by next door!

    Thanks Mozi x

  11. ladybird world mum Says:

    Ooh am glad I found your blog! What a gorgeous tree… against the sky… stunning. Love the idea of keeping up with the Jones’s. Nothing wrong with pyjamas and slippers, live next door to school where my children go, and am so longing to take them to school one day, dressed just as you were! If I do, I will let you know. Bit cold now. Excuses, excuses.

  12. QldDeb Says:

    I’ve got one of these outside my place, we call them a Poinsietta (that’ll be the wrong spelling!) tree here. I love them, they always flower at christmas time (or thereabouts). Mine has just started on one side.

    I love the carpet of flowers it throws around and the kids just love climbing on it, lots of hand/foot holds. It also likes droping crap on my car, but there’s always good & bad. Good thing the car’s ancient, it hides the scratches!

    How did the chocolate recipe go? My Family is the perfect kind of show to watch while eating it. With ice cream in another cup, if you’ve got some.


  13. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks very much for dropping in ladybird. i think pjs would make perfect school run ensemble actually. establish a new trend. do let me know.

    QldDeb – i’m still awaiting 3-phase power … once i have that, chocolate recipe is first on nuke list. absolutley, must be eaten with ice-cream. in front of telly … in pjs and slippers?

  14. Mud Says:

    My TV died last week as well. It went ‘Crackle, Pffft!’ and I lost the picture. Just before Spooks as well.

    I did try to carry on just with the sound, but felt too pathetic to be staring at a black screen!

  15. nuttycow Says:

    Afternoon RM – glad you got TV sorted out (even if you do get year-old My Family’s to contend with) Hopefully you’ll get the new series of Spooks soon and you can drool over Lucas and Adam like Mud and I!

    Isn’t your flame tree lovely – and so much nicer knowing that you’ve saved it from the brink and it’s now repaying you with such beautiful flowers!

  16. guineapigmum Says:

    Beautiful tree. And i’m clearly missing something as I don’t know what My Family is!

  17. kathleen Says:

    We have a contest every year on who wore their pj’s where the more outrageous the better. Your Flame tree is beautiful!

  18. Rob (Inukshuk Adventure) Says:

    I fondly remember the Flame trees from a period of my childhood spent in Shabani in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Those and the Jacarandas.

  19. ali la loca Says:

    How beautiful! Our entire street looks like this at the moment, with a few Jacarandas thrown in for good measure. Maputo is full of flowering trees, which is a nice offset to all the buildings in dire need of a coat of paint!

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