Archive for June, 2010

Father’s Day

June 20, 2010

It is almost 25 years since my dad died. Late on a Sunday evening. Father’s Day weekend has never been the same since – not just for his absence but for the anniversary it tugs cruelly, commercially (all those cards), to the fore.

I was 19. He wasn’t even 50. Mum was 44.

The age I am now.

It’s true, despite my derision then – my disbelief – of what sounded like outlandish, platitudinous, insensitive cliché: Life really does go on. It goes on and it overtakes you. You don’t think it will at the time; at the time you think life is going to stop, stand still.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone

And it does. For a bit. Just for you, time is briefly arrested so that you don’t notice its passage as you scramble amongst the fallout garnering the pieces of your little world, blown to bits. For days or weeks or months the Earth rests unmoving on its axis. As if a child who’s been madly spinning the inflated globe in the corner of a classroom halts it with the tip of a finger, and dents Japan. Or Tuvalu. Or an African Outpost.

You cannot conceive of a future. Of tomorrow. You can’t even think about what to eat for lunch.

But it’s only your world that’s stopped spinning, everybody else’s is still busily rotating and evolving, and you can’t stay where you are forever. In limbo. Hobbled by the pain. Stop the World I want to Get Off. You can’t: you have to gather your wits, get some sleep, pick up the reins and get going again. Nobody’s going to wait for you.

Time waits for no man.

And it’s hard not to feel disloyal then: when you do begin to get on with the business of living: it’s hard not to feel as if you’re leaving the Dead behind.

Except that you aren’t.

Because you’re struck, twenty five years after the fact, that they’ve been gone for longer than you knew them and yet there’s still this hole. Closure is but a Band Aid; the sadness keeps bubbling over the top, it spills impolitely around the edges: anniversaries, photographs, the sound of a voice, the fleeting shadow of your dad’s smile across your son’s face. Father’s Day.

I posted a card to him in the days before he died. When I got home – after the news, after too many sleepless miles, half way around the world – when I got home, the first thing I did was rifle through the mail on his desk. Some was opened. Some wasn’t.

My card was.

My dad’s not here to send cards to anymore.

But my children’s dad is.

And that’s a good thing; that’s cause for celebration.

Because life goes on.


Life in a Bucket

June 17, 2010

Some days – and there have been lots of them lately – I wake and feel intimidated at the day ahead. At its elastic hours which will tease themselves out for far longer than I need them to. Two would do. 24 are overwhelming.  

Some days, like today, I want to scream. Some days I do. I retreat to a quiet corner and disquiet it, with a shrill piercing, living here is like living in a fucking bucket, I rant: nothing to do, nowhere to go, sheer sided so that I cannot escape.   My horizons blocked and unchanging. Rattling. Rattled.

Some days I wonder will I go mad. Some days I consider that the isolation, the dislocation, may drive me right over the edge of the precious sanity that I cling to tenaciously – white knuckled, cliff-hanging. I’m going to run through the Outpost naked. And spitting, I threaten. Nobody cares though: nobody can hear.  Even if they could, they’d only laugh. Daft cow, they’d say.

Some days I wonder how long I can keep my counsel. When, I question, will it be acceptable to sit Husband gently down and say, ‘Right. I’ve had enough. I want to go now’.

But I am not the bread-winner. I can offer no sensible solution, just now, to Outpost living. 

So I admit defeat. And skulk off to the corner of a corridor that masquerades as a Studio (the capital letter is there for a reason:  it lends purpose to days and places and tasks that have none: Writing. Working. Studio) and I conjure something with wire or glass or beads. It’s amateurish. But it doesn’t matter. For the half hour immersion in something approximating toil is balm to a troubled, rushing, flailing soul.

Something pretty emerges with something like peace of mind. Not quite. But something akin to quiet. Until tomorrow.

And when Husband comes home I hold up my small prize for admiration, for I seek his valuable endorsement that I did not waste my too-long stretched-to-taut-limit day. And then I open us both a beer. And I do not say, ‘Right. I’ve had enough. I want to go now’.

I say, ‘So how was your day?’


The Consequences of Soliciting

June 10, 2010

Sometimes Outpost life gets sticky.

Not humid-shirt-glued-to-your-back/hair-to-your-neck Sticky; the Outpost is popodom crack dry so that Hat’s lips are always sore and towels dry into the pyramid shapes that they’ve been abandoned as on the floor. No, not that kind of Sticky: mired in tedium, wading through the day, stuck in a torpor, enervating Sticky.

Isolation does that.

Some mornings in the Outpost I wake in a panic at the hours that stretch taut ahead; I must tread them with all the precision of a tightrope walker or they’ll evaporate in a stew of television watching or mindless internet surfing which leave me disgruntled and ill-humoured; I’ve done bloody nothing all day I will moan. Assuming direction becomes even more crucial when there is little to offer it. The parameters to my days are so loose as to be intangible at times, so loose I could tie myself in uncompromising knots with them.

Some mornings in the Outpost I wonder if anybody would notice if I didn’t bother to get out of bed.

So I get up. And if I’m not cutting glass and my fingers and the soles of my feet for the tiny shards that have escaped my work bench, if I’m not playing at being a Glass Artist for the day, I solicit.

I turn on the charm, sashay through cysberspace and cock an eye at any number of given editors (I’m not fussy: I’ll sell my scribe’s soul to anybody who’ll pay) and I say, I wondered if you were looking for freelance material? I have a couple of ideas for the magazine/paper/ezine but just wanted to check first … Sometimes I might attach relevant clips, literary equivalent of hitching your skirt to tempt a buyer, in vain hope an editor might reference them. My name will mean nothing.

I’m not JK after all: JK’s a real writer. I’m not; I know that because if I loftily suggest I might be, ‘I’m a writer’, I have said, when asked (because instinct tells me the conversation might not go far on I’m Just a Mum) the response is, indubitably, ‘Oh how interesting! What have you written?’ And they don’t mean the piece you did for the school magazine, they mean which books. And those you have written lie languishing, collecting micro-dust, in a Word document. So you say, because you were foolish enough to use the word Writer in the first place (which, by extension, must suggest a hardback ISBN edition somewhere), ‘I’ve tried to find a publisher, but nobody’s interested’. And then they say, and they all say it, ‘Oh don’t worry, your time will come; JK Rowling approached 36 publishing houses before she was discovered’.

Actually, you want to say, because you know, because as a wannabewriter, these sorts of numbers are relevant, her agent approached 12, Bloomsbury was the 13th. Lucky for some.

Actually, you want to say, because you know, because as a wannabewriter, these sorts of numbers are relevant, you’ve approached more than 36. You’ve approached 43. And they’ve all said the same thing: not one for our lists, I’m afraid.

In the last two days I have pitched fifteen editors.

If I score a single commission it’ll be a good couple of days work. And I will be able to relate to Husband, over a beer, that my brazen soliciting has paid off.

And the Outpost will be a little less sticky as a consequence.

Smoke and Mirrors

June 4, 2010

So there I was, smug in the Big Smoke, between Hair Appointment and Lunch With Friends (because that’s what people do in the Big Smoke when they’ve wrested their way out of barely-a-whisper-of-the-stuff Outposts), jammed between one end of a daladala and another when he sauntered up and, nonchalantly as you like, snapped my wing mirror off.

I was left impotent and squeaking, captured between daladala and daladala and four doors whilst he slunk into the melee with a 50 buck prize in his hot little hand.

When I complain to a Tanzanian (‘I’ve had my bloody wing mirror whipped, just like that’, and I click my fingers for effect) he informs me, ‘it’s because you’re white’.

But he’s wrong: it’s because my registration number wasn’t carved into the mirror (which would have diminished street resale value considerably); it’s because I hadn’t secured it with knots of wire like a cleverer friend; it’s because I was stuck fast and couldn’t get out of his way quick enough.  (And it’s probably because I was texting when I ought to have been paying more attention … and immediately upon petty violation I phoned husband which probably put second wing mirror and spare wheel in jeopardy but by then thankfully the line of cars had begun to move quicker than wing-mirror harvesters can).

So the thrill of town escapades escalates – nothing like this in the Outpost.

But having a wing mirror spliced from your car whilst you’re mired in traffic the likes of which you haven’t seen for months (on account of alienating geography) is nothing.

My son and I were bumper to bumper with a shoot-out on the main drag once.

Right there. In Front of Our Very Eyes. A real-live hold up. With guns. And shattered glass. And doubtless tyre-necklacing in a side street for the one that almost got away: Africa doles out street justice quickly and mercilessly.

I’d only gone in to buy a bloody Turkey, for God’s sake.

As the scene unfolded, with that curious mixture of astonishing rapidity and simultaneous slow-motion that attends such drama, I slid towards the kerb, switched the engine off, yanked the keys from the ignition (if they wanted my car, they could have it) and instructed son to Get Down. Where I was. Crouched in the footwell.

I didn’t clamber out from my perch on the brake and beneath the steering column until my son, who hadn’t heeded a word of my warning, said, ‘It’s OK mum, you can get out now’.

He’d watched it all, wide-saucer eyes peeping over the dash and was able to relate, as I abandoned the idea of turkeys that Christmas and opted for a couple of chickens instead, the unfolding of events with the same minutiae that accompany a child’s description of a film they’ve seen (so that you are left tied in confusion as to who exactly the baddies were and have to keep asking).

The men in the car behind got out and surrounded the car in front.

And then one of them fired a shot at the driver. But his window didn’t break. It just cracked.

And then the driver got out and he pulled a pistol out of his pocket (so it really was: a pistol in his pocket) and he started to shoot. But his car kept driving down the street. And then another man got into his car (but he was obviously a goodie) and he parked the car for the man who had got out and started to shoot the baddies. And he shot one. And two ran away (to be necklaced) and the last man got back in his car and he drove away very fast. And everybody was shouting and screaming and chasing the two that got away.

And you were down there. Hiding.  And so you missed it all.

In the hours the follow I establish that this, contrary to first impressions, was not an attempt to hijack a sleek new automatic Mercedes with bullet proof windows (in which case it’s doubless anybody would have given my ancient Landcruiser a second look); it was instead the attempt to steal the Christmas takings from one of the wealthiest traders in town who was on his way to the bank with bags of Swag in the boot.

Small wonder, then, that my son’s response to my outrage over wing mirror was one of disappointment on account of lack of theatricals.  I didn’t whip a pistol from my knickers. I just gasped and ineffectaully spluttered, ‘What the F …!’