Learning to Walk Tall

I have developed a dangerous addiction.

I e-buy on E-Bay.

A lot.

I am honing my bidding skills, sharpening my timing to a tee (so that the hours of stalking a given thing pay off).

And swiftly going broke.

It begins innocuously: Hat needs a pair of pajamas. And then some underwear. And a swimming costume because hers is threatening to fall apart in unseemly fashion at the seams. And a swingingly- sixities bright pinkanddfringed boho cardi, just because I know she will love it.

And lurking in the glittering cyber mall that is the biggest virtual auction house in the world, I stumble across a pair of boots which I, naturally, fall hopelessly in love with. So I pop a bid on: what’s the harm in a little fling? To test the waters. God: you don’t actually think I’m going to buy them! Of course not: this is just for fun. This is pretend because-you-live-in-an-Outpost shopping.

Except that when that sly little message from the ultimate in retail temptresses (the one that reminds you a coveted item is Ending Soon) wheedles its way into my inbox at Outlook Express: “You’ve been Outbid …”. Well then, of course, because they have lurched just, just (mere pence) out of reach I want them. Nay. I NEED them.

And so – after furious midnight shadowing, after a near bloody hunt, after mere pence turn into more pounds than I meant (and you thought that thing about counting the pennies and the pounds would look after themselves was a load of bollocks from your granny?) – I get them.

Congratulations! You’ve won this Ebay Item. Which, of course, you never knew you had any use of until  1 day, 4 hours and 57 minutes prior to purchase.

I am now the proud owner of not one but three pairs of boots. Three! Knee High Black Suede (courtesy of LK Bennet); long soft brown leather (Jones the Boot Maker) and ankle boots from Bally.

And I live in a sand and sunshine and endless high blue skies place where flip flops are too hot.


So it’s just as well Hat (in her swingingly-sixities bright pinkanddfringed boho cardi) and I (in any one of three new pairs of boots) are off to frostwhite London on Tuesday. A day before she is 13. And four before the first of five interviews at prospective schools. Five in Six days. (And it’s just as well my footwear collection is broad: I’ll be walking my soles off).

Hat says, tearfully, ‘ I don’t think I’ve really achieved anything in the past three years, mama’.

I suppose that’s the thing: educate a child via a virtual experience and you risk reducing achievements to the intangible. Invisible collections in the ether. Disembodied voices for classmates.

For a moment I want to weep. For a moment I think, ‘did I do this – with my choices? Did I reduce my precious daughter to a bundle of compromised self-esteem?’

But you’ve done loads, I say to her …

She looks doubtful.

And I realize that we must qualify – quantify – those accomplishments in a way that she can touch and hold and rifle through to look back on, something she can use to demonstrate to any of those Head Teachers who might doubt the boho way we have chosen to educate Hat in recent years (swingingly sixities bright pinkanddfringed cardi aside) that she really has learned something.

And so we have made a scrap book. And it is bursting with poems and plays and stories she has written; presentations she has compiled on Zanzibar and the catacombs of Paris; maps she has drawn; the proposal she sent to the World Health Organisation for her malaria game; a description of Livingston and Stanley and their historic meeting not far from the Outpost. And it is spilling with bright photographs of Hat facing the Congo across an expanse of silvergrey water; Hat looking at Mozambique over a boiling hotchocolatesauce Ruvuma River; Hat sitting by a big, big fish on a butterscotch beach; Hat holding up another her dad caught on Africa’s broadest inland sea; Hat sitting day-dreaming on a rock in that same landlocked ocean, like the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen’s Langelinie; Hat walking on the dam with her brother and sister and Hat pondering a kettle bubbling on a camp fire, her titian aflame with the sunrise … It’s fat with life and colour and experience: three years jam packed and jostling for space.

It’s good Mum, isn’t it? She smiles as she holds it up in her hands – all the happenings of the most recent quarter of her little life. Quantified. Qualified.

Yeah, I laugh, it’s great.

So I will stride into those schools on my new heels with my little girl, auburn curls bouncing on swingingly-sixities bright pink shoulders, and I will hope that she believes what I have told her: that whichever school gets her is jolly lucky. And whichever does not has missed out.

Because that’s what you tell your children.

Because that’s your job.

So wish my Hat good luck

And pray that I don’t break a leg.

21 Responses to “Learning to Walk Tall”

  1. MissingMoshi Says:

    Hat has learned more in her short years than most adults who have lived full lives.
    What a wonderful life and education Africa has given her.
    Will Hat be staying at school when you fly back home?

    I love eBay and use auctionstealer.com to place bids for me. It is free and I can put in the very highest amount I am willing to spend and let it bid for me at the very end.

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you MissingMoshi; no, she’ll come home but will start new school year, September. Oh dear: hot tip re auctionstealer could be undoing …!

  3. Potty Mummy Says:

    Wishing you both the best of luck for your forthcoming adventure; you know she’ll walk it. (As, it seems, will you! I envy you those boots – the chance not to wear Timberlands or snow boots would be lovely right now!)

  4. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Potty: hope you are keeping warm. And keeping writing … x

  5. Kit Says:

    Good luck to both of you with these school interviews. That scrapbook sounds amazing and whichever school you both choose will be lucky to have Hat. Africa educates in so many more ways that a traditional schoolroom does. And a great job your doing parenting too – the scrapbook sounds like the perfect solution to wobbly self esteem.

  6. R. Sherman Says:

    Good luck to you both!

    As trite as it sounds, your daughter will be just fine, especially when she realizes that there are those who will appreciate her life experiences and the education they’ve provided more than she (or you?) perhaps does. The passage of time has a tendency to remove these doubts.

    Stated differently, I’m sure you’ve done a great job preparing her!

    Safe trip, and


  7. rosiero Says:

    You’ll need those boots for all the snow we are having here in the South East. Hat has marvellous experience that will outshine any others, I should think. Any school will welcome her with open arms. Good luck with the interviews.

  8. rosiero Says:

    PS. I think ebay is great…. and very addictive! You have been warned.

  9. Jon Storey Says:

    Ahh. Ebay….!

    Very good luck to Hat. She has known so much that my girls would kill for.

  10. MissingMoshi Says:

    Auctionstealer will make eBay more fun and will help keep your fingernails in fine order.
    I love to buy old things on eBay. I wish I could go back in time and collect some of the gret old things I saw in East Africa as a child.

    It is wonderful you waited to send Hat away to school until she was ready. I was sent away at the age of 10 to a school (in another African country) that treated children like mini adults.
    I would not wish that experience on anyone.
    You are a great mom!

  11. Eliza Says:

    dearest anthea, don’t ever doubt that hat bat hasn’t had the most amazing few years of her life!!!! what you’ve taught her, shown her, and what you’ve both experienced in your travels together will be with forever. i know that. don’t for a minute doubt any of it. now she’s just going on to new adventures, and horizons…but how lucky she has been to have had these years with you – even in the outpost. She has gained more than many children of her age…she’s a lucky girl that one… lots of love xx

  12. nursemyra Says:

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Hat. And your legs.

  13. doglover Says:

    eBay activity? I never understand why buyers wait till the last moment to put in their final bid. The adult way to bid is to decide on your maximum and put that in when you start. Then you don’t have to get stressed or even to watch the bidding. Either you win the item or you don’t.

    There speaks an experienced, disillusioned eBayer who once had more money!

  14. carol Says:

    Wow – I bet that scrapbook will be very valuable one day. Hat is great and you are right when you say any school would be lucky to get her. Best of luck with the cold and the interviews… by the way it’s not that hot in Nairobi – I wear boots sometimes and could always do with another pair if three are too much for you! XX

  15. connie Says:

    Love your blog, love your writing…can’t remember how I found you – skipping through a couple of my favourite blogs – yours is one too now.

  16. MissingMoshi Says:

    Anthea have you thought about sending the scrapbook of Hat’s into a publisher? It would be a fantastic book for children of all ages!

  17. nuttycow Says:

    A little late but *luck* *luck* *luck*

  18. Iota Says:

    I’m late too, but I hope she finds somewhere perfect for her.

    I’m just a bit worried that someone might look at the scrapbook and say something horrid like ‘well, you’ve certainly had a lot of holidays, haven’t you?’ I so hope they don’t, but education these days is so obsessed with things you can measure and assess, and Hat’s past 3 years haven’t fitted into that kind of mentality – for which they are all the richer, of course.

    Did you know on Ebay you can put in a maximum bid, and the system takes over for you? It bids in increments, not revealing your hand, until your maximum is reached, and then you get an email. So you could be very self-disciplined, and decide on a maximum, and then leave it at that. Less fun, though.

    And if you don’t wear all those boots – you can just sell them again!

  19. kathleen Says:

    Good lord has it been 3 years? I’m shocked. Good luck on finding the right school. Time has just flown by, I stared reading your blog around that time. Ebay…I need to stay off that site! But I have gotten some wonderful things. I’m afraid I shop on ebay when I get bored at work, isn’t that awful???

  20. paradiselostintranslation.blogspot.com Says:

    An Albanian addiction for me too – eBay. I love it. There are no good shops here so it’s my little treat! & I actually prefer it as a way to shop rather than trawling around real shops, wasting hours.
    I too wish Hat all the very best & hope she shines in the interviews. You described the scrapbook beautifully. It wil be a lovely thign for he rto look back at in yrs to come. And for you too.

  21. Thinly Spread « Reluctant Memsahib Says:

    […] don’t know if the boots did any good. They kept my feet warm. And I didn’t trip. I walked tall into all five schools, with […]

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