The Outpost seems very big at 5 in the morning when you wake to the rain and dark and an empty patch in the bed beside you because your Husband is hundreds of miles away to the South. It seems swallowingly big then.
So I get up and let the dogs in and make tea and find myself suddenly surrounded by a menagerie: cats which weave between my ankles threatening to trip me up and clamouring for a saucer of milk, a pair of slightly plump yellow Labradors that wiggle and smile to let me know how delighted they are to see me (and please may we have a biscuit?) and whose too-long nails on the kitchen tiles make them sound like fat blondes in high heels grappling for purchase on a treacherously glossy piazza.
I make tea and urge the dogs to sit for a biscuit and feed the cats and then I go back to bed and the cats get in with me and the dogs flop down on a bedside rug and begin to snore and occasionally yelp as they chase a guinea fowl in their dreams. The rain continues to fall in steady, unseen sheets and outside it’s still pitch black because the dawn is procrastinating (who wants to get up on a cold, dank morning anyway?).
And I feel a little less lonely.
Hat will be pleased it’s raining. Hat, for her fifth generation African pedigree (which of course it isn’t at all: not when you’re a bit Irish, a bit Scottish, a little more English and brought up under African skies) has skin the colour of clotted cream and hair like copper and isn’t built for a fierce equatorial sun; she likes the rain, does not object to the cold, curls up catlike with a book where I pace in irritation demanding ‘when’s it going to stop?’. Two generations ago I’d have had her in a pith helmet (to protect her Celtic complexion) and a spine pad (for my ancestors feared their brains would broil and they’d go mad), now it’s just Factor 50 and where’syourbloodyhat.
But recent days have seen temperatures soar so that the garden wilts as I do, so that our little vegetable garden pants and sweats and begs for its rasping thirst to be slaked; the few precious buckets of water Sylvester tosses in its direction of an evening only make it beg for more, only tickle its taste buds without hitting the spot.
This morning, after hours of gently caressing rain, the kind that settles deep into the earth and stays, not the sort that lashes and slaps the ground in spite and runs off with its prize of top soil, the vegetable garden will be bright eyed and perky and will have drunk its full.
The chillis will be redder and glossier; the carrot tops all bushy-tailed; the tomato vines will blush at their good fortune; the sunshine yellow blossom of fat, emerald gem squash will unfurl as new dawns so that the forest green leaves of Swiss chard stretch and uncurl, the purple shoots of beetroot will be polished shiny; the tresses of a maize cob newly washed and brushed and the tiny snow white flowers of beans snowier, whiter.
And I will be able to peer into the deep, cool heart of a lettuce and think, ‘salad for lunch?’