Archive for January, 2010

Far from Madding Crowds

January 30, 2010


It’s ages since we walked the dam.

It is shrunken and shallow and the pelicans that lived there have hefted themselves heavily into the heavens and gone elsewhere.

But the green around it abounds with a soothing stillness.

I can hardly complain of Madding Crowds but we all need to get away from it all. Whatever the All is.

And so we do, with dogs and cold beers and a camera.

And we hear the gabbling call of a turaco, the hysterical shrieks of mongoose as they catch our scent and scream at their young to come home right away. Right Now, I said! The odd over inquisitive one peeps a small black-beady-eyed face out of a burrow and pops back down directly to report our progress to the others.

And the quiet; we hear the quiet. You know you’re listening to silence when you can pluck separate sounds from it. Because they don’t meld and blur as white noise.


And the big blue sky was shot with spangled light and the water shone like a mirror as the sun lowered itself gracefully behind distant purplebruised hills and the ants in the whistling thorns scurried for cover from my lens and the long grass blushed and shivered and nodded wooly heads at the tiniest whisper of wind and then the moon, full and fat and waxy, rose, hoisted on silver threads.

 And we went home and left the mongoose alone.


On Wee Willie Winkie and Medusa

January 27, 2010



I lie awake at night. Night after night after intermindable night.

How much sleep does a person need, I wonder as I toss and turn and thump my pillow. Can you die from the lack of it?

I watch the moon, fat faced and full cheeked, slip behind a curtain of cloud to commune with stars I can no longer see.

I heard faraway thunder sneak up because nobody’s looking.

And then I hear the first plump drops of rain. Warm rain, tapping on the windows, with its companion, a softly moaning wind, crying through the locks, like Wee Willie Winkie in his nightgown (will he rub sand into my eyes, I think to myself; perhaps he’s already been: that’s what it feels like).

And the slowing rattle of the fan as the power cuts out with a lightning strike.

The rain falls and the mosquitoes rise like ghosts and singwhine irritatingly into my ear, ‘Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah: you caaaaaaaaan’t sleep’. I swat ineffectually.

And I get up to drink another glass of milk.

An objection to sleeping pills is all very well, but there’s only so much chamomile tea and sleepless nights a girl can take.


My groceries gather on the soft wooden counter of Kaidi’s duka. I scan shelves for inspiration for the merchandise is out of reach, unless Kaidi grants you special dispensation and you are permitted hallowed access to examine the products you might be tempted to purchase: reading with your eyes and not your hands does not apply where retail therapy is concerned and Kaidi’s is all I have unless you count bad Ebay and Amazon habits.

‘Kaidi’, I say, ‘please can I come and look at the hair conditioners?’.

His assistant lifts the hinged counter so that I can shuffle underneath it, Kaidi remains sitting on his high stool, sipping thick black Arabic coffee and smoking cigarette after cigarette so the smoke filters up snakelike into the gloom overhead and top-shelved Ariel is almost obscured.

‘Try that one’, he says, directing me to a hefty pot of thick, yellow unguent, like custard.

Snake Oil, reads the label.

‘Snake Oil?’, I say. ‘Snake Oil!?’ ‘On my head!’.

Kaidi laughs. And I select something benign and familiar and safer.

For whilst lack of sleep may reduce me to poisonous Medusa temperament, I do not want to look like her as well.

‘Can I have a discount?’ I ask Kaidi as my shopping is packed into blue Marlborough plastic bags, because in the Outpost smoking is still alive and well despite the dearth of strapping Stetson-wearing hunks riding bareback through cactus littered canyons.

No, says Kaidi, but he gives me a bag of cheap toffees instead.

Which is something.

Breaking Silences

January 21, 2010



Keep quiet for too long and you don’t know where to begin.

In a rain-sodden outpost? On a bone-breaking ride from one place in the middle of nowhere to another? At the beach, bleached bone white and hot, where the wind whispers secrets to the palms which shiver in delicious response as if hardly able to contain their delight at being chosen confidante? In an old town that resonates with the muezzin and church bells, with caterwauling and the agitated buzz of dozens of Vespas navigating snakeskinny alleys? (And where the stench of fish hangs disconcertingly and heavy in the air on an island that hasn’t had power for more than a month). Or back where we started.

In an outpost. Where the rain has briefly abated and the sky is taut and high and defiantly blue (so that the storms growl on distant horizons; I can’t see them, just hear them, as they stalk and grumble and occasionally hurl brilliant bright outraged fists heavenwards).

We did more than two thousand miles, a huge untidy circle that grappled with mountains’ feet and tickled a silver coast. In eighteen nights we slept in 7 different beds. Six of us left the outpost, a bursting to the seams more-than-full-house; three of us came home. It’s too quiet now. The raucous, tinsel scattered, fairy-light lit, paper strewn place we left behind is much too tidy and I can find what I am looking for. (Which isn’t always a good thing).

We ate a picnic breakfast on that long lonely road out; we saw the New Year in on Zanzibar and earned a modicum of cool-cred from our kids because we actually knew who Freddie Mercury was and could point out the house where he lived; we looked upon an eclipse which was reminiscent of a moon abandoned by a careless Pierrot.

We wished we were still Full House at the beach where we were joined by Hat’s bestfriendforever so that the girls, like the wind and the palms, shared secrets that only little girls know the sanctity of and had their arms decorated with henna so that they could gigglingly feign tattoos, ‘I’ve got a tongue piercing too’, Hat teased a friend who expressed mild shock.


But alas a Granny had a home of her own to go back to, a son the grim prospect of mock IB exams and a daughter a spring term to start in snowbound Hertfordshire.

And I must get used to the silence.

For Hat has said, ‘I think, mum, I think it is time I went to proper school’.

One where there are real-live children and music lessons, assembly in the morning, midnight feasts after lights out, netball and a library.

We always promised ourselves, ‘when she says it’s time, it’s time’.

And promises must be kept.

As holidays must be looked forward to.

But I shall miss Madame Marcia the fortune teller, and Marcella her lookalike sister, and despite his shocking manners, I might even miss Captain Jack.

And – oh – I shall miss my Hat.