Reasons to be Cheerful




But you see it does not do to sit and mull. To allow the frustration of becoming an Outpost Captive suppurate and contaminate everything. My mood, Hat’s, Husband’s, the poor dogs.


Stop it. Literally. Plug it before it seeps unchecked onto a pillow. Tears of angry, impotent disappointment. Onto the page, furious, incoherent indignation.


I live here for God’s sake. I have to learn to find some kind of solace in Home.  Even when I don’t want to be here.


So we went for a walk. Why always a walk when Outpost Living threatens to Overwhelm?


Because striding through the bush energizes where disillusionment enervates? Coaxes shyly elusive endorphins to the fore so that I might cerebrally sieve them for happy thoughts? Because it gives me something else to think about; a different, a constantly and gently evolving vista, something new to look at? Because it gets me out, God damn it.


Let’s tackle the big hill, Husband suggested on Sunday morning.


We have meant to since we got here 18 month ago. EIGHTEEN MONTHS, almost two years! Have I teetered on the knife edge of isolating insanity for so long? A lean, tautly held tightrope, wobbling often, gasping at how close I’ve come, then slowly stretching my arms out to steady myself. A tentative sigh as I do; find my feet again.


The hill in question lies west of the dam. A huge outcrop of almost perfectly unbroken rock. A hard, cold shouldered shrug; it couldn’t care less who clambers up its steep slides. We climb it on a morning rendered tender after a night of rain, softly waterlogged and duck down, comfortingly grey. Sometimes you don’t want to witness Africa in all her brightlights glory; sometimes her subdued self is kinder. I needed Africa to be kind that morning.   She was, and generous; yielding small gifts for me to admire: fire engine red and bright sunshine yellow mushrooms (‘are those edible too then?’ I tease Husband who has a dangerous penchant for fungi sampling; “No”, he said shortly);






acacia trees festooned ridiculously, enthusiastically, with pompom blossom, as if they had been let loose in their mother’s dressing up box; tiny delicate violet irises with petals which bruise at the hint of a touch.





We took a flask of tea.





And we climbed until our skin was sweat sheen shiny and our breath short. There is something exhilarating about exhaustion. And the tea was good as we sat high upon our rocky thrones and quietly watched a pearly sky stretch as far as we could see. Far, far until it touched outstretched fingers with the exuberant green shrub that the Rains have rolled out like Astroturf.   Hat read us a poem. The dogs sunk into a puddle.   I thought I heard an aeorplane. And it didn’t matter that I was not on it.




Husband found a swathe of wild red lilies, nodding their heads in affable agreement with the breeze. He dug up a dozen roots, ‘for your garden’, he said. Because he understands that six flowers will make a difference. 





And then he found a host of nicotine stained scorpions curled maliciously under a stone, their stings coiled, he showed Hat: an impromptu biology lesson. And a baby bird, tucked fearful beneath a rock, its chick plumage still evident beneath new-smooth feathers, its tiny breast beating too quick.



Can I take it home? To look after? Hat asked.


No, his mama will be back soon. Best leave it here, where she can find him. Listen, can you hear her calling?


(We couldn’t; and the baby bird was softy, swiftly dying. But when you are 11 you don’t need to know that. When you are 11 your own mama can fib to iron life’s bumps to easier, navigable smoothness).


Oh yes, smiled Hat, tilting her head to the sound we could not hear.


Later we speak to her big sister. Five days since we did. She scaled Kilimanjaro and touched Africa’s Big Big Sky.


And I laugh and I want to cry.


Because things aren’t so bad.





32 Responses to “Reasons to be Cheerful”

  1. Tamara Says:

    Walking really is the best medicine. It just puts everything into perspective and diminishes the things that consume us. And isn’t it a glorious time of year to be out and about?

  2. Tash Says:

    Wow… love the dressing up box. I can’t believe it’s eighteen months. Well done for walking, for every single walk… Looking forward to sharing more with you xx

  3. Eliza Says:

    She got to the top!!! That is so cool. And i meant to look out for her, although I can’t remember if it was cloudy that morning. Well done her!!!!
    And love to you, so glad you climbed that hill xx

  4. French Fancy Says:

    It’s strange isn’t it that one can jog along a bit impervious to the fact that maybe one’s life isn’t quite what one wished for and then, all of a sudden, one day, it all gets a bit too much and things come pouring over the top of the water butt. All the things squashed down into it explode and little things become monumental and you just want to run away.

    I think the second year of living somewhere else is very hard. The first year everything is new and exciting and then the second year you just long to be ‘home’. Our second year in France which, admittedly is very near the UK but still a different way of life, made me quite low and I would sit thinking about running away. Now, some almost six years on, I seldom feel like that and do, genuinely, prefer to be out of England. I hope you feel a bit brighter today.

  5. Mud Says:

    Well described. Whenever you see those lilies growing in your garden they shoudl remind you of that feeling.

    Love the pic of the dog in the puddle as well, sometimes being a labrador would be so much simpler.

  6. Tessa Says:

    Beautifully written. Lyrical, charming and uplifting. Thank you so much for sharing. Gorgeous photographs, too!

  7. Millennium Housewife Says:

    That was just gorgeous, I love coming over to read you, it’s as comforting as chocolate but without the calories (in fact it’s probably negative calories as I’m burning some up while reading – that’s service for you!). MH

  8. laurie Says:

    oh my.
    oh my.
    yes, walking. yes, paying attention. yes, being with those you love.
    but still. oh my.

  9. R. Sherman Says:

    Wonderful and thanks for the photos — again — especially the last. I need a mountain at the moment.


  10. roberta Says:

    You must know …and I mean this from the heart…your writing allows me to see a world I will never in this lifetime see.

    Thank you for another grand walk.

  11. rosiero Says:

    Walking is very therapeutic and irons out a lot of wrinkles in my mind. As you say, the endorphins work wonders. I love those red lilies. They should cheer up your garden – and you!!

  12. janelle Says:

    ah gorgeous post anthea…and BEAUTIFUL PICS!!! glad you climbed that hill…against all odds…glad you did…big hug xxx j

  13. Gillian Says:

    Hello again,

    I have recently started walking every day – first thing in the morning. Usually I’m chattering away to my husband while he points out birds and blossoms.

    This morning I’ll probably tell him about your walk. Especially your wonderful protection of Hat. Your mothering is spot-on.

    On a rocky journey, it’s good to get up high now and then — as I did here —

  14. Susie Vereker Says:

    This is a brilliant blog. You absolutely must write a book/column/whatever (perhaps you are doing so) While finding your travails amusing, I do understand that they are not particularly funny when you have to live through them. For most of my life I was an expat/trailing spouse so I do empathise as far as I can and sympathise entirely, though have never lived in an Outpost with a capital O. But if you are a writer then everything that happens can be woven into fiction, or indeed fact.
    On my wall I have stuck up this quote from Joanna Trollope “Everything good and bad in your life gets woven into the carpet. You just go on walking down it.” It’s often hard but I guess she’s right.

  15. choppysunflower Says:

    You managed to climb out of that hole again for a while by climbing that hill and getting a different perspective. It was a beautiful hill.

    I didn’t realize how often you wanted to run away, but stayed anyway. That is courage for you. Bless you for staying. It must get awfully hard sometimes.

    I would like to see your garden that you have carved out for yourself. I am curious about what took hold and what did not.

    You need a friend to come by and have a cold beer with you. Aren’t we all friends that come by and have virtual drinks with you? I guess it’s not the same, huh?

    When you feel lonely, think about how impressed we are with your words and your descriptions and the way you show us your feelings. We are with you a little bit, memsahib.

  16. Annabelle King Says:

    RM – please write a book. It would be a bestseller. Your writing is mesmerising. I felt like I went on that walk with you.

    Courage mon brave.

    BM x

  17. Stinking Billy Says:

    You are a delight to read. Thought I’d mention that in the cold light of day when I am sober. My response to your comment two or three days ago had me shaking my head when I read it the next morning. I had written “Let’s shoot the bastards!” when you had only been commenting on the Jehova’s Witnesses and not the Mumbai terrorists. Mama mia!

  18. Dumdad Says:

    Lovely photos.

  19. Tash Says:

    Oh RM… look – just look – at everyone’s comments. How you affect us all. Way to go, girl… keep on walking. I love the idea you’re like chocolate, without the calories. Brilliant. Wish I could see you next week, but enjoy it anyway… love to all

  20. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    absolutley Tamara; it does. i always feel better after a good walk. and i agree, fabulous time of year for it. x

    thanks Tash, sorry i wil miss you x

    French Fancy: thanks for that. That realy helped. I had anticipated that the first year would be tough and was prepared and braced for it and in the end it was, as you suggest, an adventure, all so different. By the second, things are beginning to pall a little. I hope I’m not here for six! but let’s hope the 3rd is easier. because i’ll be prepared … one hopes. I am glad France is Home for you now.

  21. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Mud. I agree. Especiall my labs. Spoiled rotten, fat as butter, without a single responsibility as far as i can tell. other than to make sure they make supper on time which given that they never leave kitchen in case a single crumb is dropped upon the floor (in which case they are conventiently close to snaffle it up) is unlikely.

    Thank you very much Tessa.

    MH. I think that is the most delicious compliment ever. To compare my words to chocolate. You are too kind. But I am flattered x

    Laurie: we have similar problem to you getting our dogs into the car for walks. Keen to get in. But rather too plump to make graceful leap upwards!

    Thanks Mr S. It is a lovely mountain, isn’t it. My kids are lucky enough to go to school with that view.

  22. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Roberta, that will a wonderful prompt as i write: that i can take you to a place you might never have been.

    rosiero, here’s to walking and endorphins. they are fabulous lilies aren’t they. i do hope they take now that i have planted them.

    thank you janelle … see you next year. I shall DRIVE! xx

    Thanks Gillian. Nothing like a walk. And a view. Lovely.

  23. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks very much for dropping by, Susie. I am trying. To write a book. not very successfully, but my blog gives delicious and necessary vent to my words. and the company is imperative. I like the JT quote; that’s good. Thanks for that.

    Choppy, how intuitive you are. I love seeing what takes hold in my garden. I’m waiting to see what those lilies do too. Every evening i walk around the garden with the dogs, and usually an occassional cat too, and inspect plants in minute detail. Things grow very slowly here and it is thrilling to see the tiniest bud push forth. i think its representative of my life, tiny tiny but the smallest achievement seems huge. please, please do come for cold beer. i shall fill up the fridge now! x

  24. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    how very kind you are, Annabelle. I fear not though. But i love my blog and the words i put here are carefully chosen so comments like yours are very gratifying. I’m glad you joined me on my walk. I love the company x

    Stinking Billy. Thank you. and please don’t worry. I fear that to have been distrubed by the JWs whilst trying to relax over his Sunday Papers, my dear old unc’s sentiments may very well have been ”Shoot the Bastards”.

    Thanks Dumdad. Collect new wide angle lense soon so i hope i can do justice to Africa’s bigger picture.

  25. Yvonne Says:

    I`m off work today with a streaming cold and feeling a little sorry for myself, read your blog and it`s lovely to read the descriptions of where you are now in your life, enjoy. It`s thick of frost here, cold dark and gloomy, the shops are full of people shoving eachother out of the way, stay with your feet in the warm water, you are part of everything around you. xx

  26. hornblower Says:

    Hello, I’ve been enjoying your blog for some time now. Recently, I got one of those little blog award thingies which pass through the web. I’m passing it on to you. – just as a token of appreciation for all you share through your blog.

  27. Mr Farty Says:

    This was such a beautiful post, especially the description of the baby bird.

    Thanks so much.

  28. grit Says:

    those photographs do have a striking beauty, and here in the middle of cold and wet these bright and warm images are like the stuff of dreams…

  29. nuttycow Says:

    Hey RM – another great post with some lovely pictures. I’m with Mud – Labrador life seems easy. Either that or a cat. Sleep. Eat. Sleep some more. Bliss.

    I would imagine you’re gearing up for Christmas, even in the Outpost. Sisal Christmas tree this year?

  30. kitschen pink Says:

    Our part of Norfolk is very flat. I walk around in flat circles. You are lucky sometimes to have a hill. I should go find one. A walk up a hill is clearly good for the mind. t.x

  31. Lane Says:

    Love your muddy dog.

    Love your blog. How did I not come across you before?:-)

  32. Mud Says:

    Tagged you over at mine!

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