Archive for October, 2011

Consolation Prizes

October 31, 2011

Out of and back into the Outpost in the briefest blur of thirty hours. I didn’t know it could be done. But school runs dictate that directness is of the essence.

So Hat and I clambered aboard a tobacco plane on a milky Saturday morning and we climbed high above our spilling slice of Africa and we left the always-voluptuous mango trees behind and winged our way across a million biscuit brown miles to the capital city where rain clouds were just beginning to gather so that the small bird we were in was at the sickening mercy of hotly rising thermals.

Seventeen hours later we were back at the airport. She to board British Airways to London and onwards by coach to school on the biting North Norfolk coast, I to fly west on a dawn of brushed blue silk.

I bustled Hat through check in and immigration; my flight was being called. Hasty goodbyes are better than lengthy ones. Her bright, broad smile made it easier. It wasn’t until later that the parting struck and tears pricked: her absence from my outpost is felt more keenly for her quiet, undemanding presence when she is here is utterly absorbing. Give them wings, give them wings. And so I have. Literally. Metaphorically. Wings supplemented by a battered Antler suitcase and a much loved guitar.

And so she flew north and I came west and for the first time in nearly five years of flying this route and in the astonishing clarity of the morning I saw Mt Meru and Kilimanjaro which straddle the northern border of the country hundreds of miles away; they stood as if facing one another in duel, their shoulders swathed in cloud, their summits sturdy profiles against a rising blue. A small award in recognition of a longer-than-most school run. Once, a long time, and one another school run, in a different part of the country, the children and I spotted a cheetah and her two cubs sitting atop an ant hill right by the road; that was our prize for what was then an eight hour run.

And I touched down on the dust and drove the three hours home. For a cup of tea and a swim with Pili.



The day is newly, newly rinsed. Full fat rain fell – two whole inches of it so that the ground wasn’t just pitted with the tiny fairy steps of a lightening shower but puddled with the pools of water left by a proper storm which took out the power and felled the bougainvillea so that it lies on the ground like a muddy veil. The wind tossed flamboyant flowers into the pool so that when I swim later I shall surface with fiery petals in my hair. The earth is steamy, breathing warm and wet, sated, and the cicadas are pressurecooked hissy and the frogs in the pond sang of their delight into dawn – amphibious Louis Armstrongs (with laryngitis?). I can almost see the lawn unfurling and I watch the terminalia leaves shiver with the thrill of an overdue power shower, long dormant lilies throw young green heads up and nod agreeably in the freshly washed morning light. And my high whitehot skies are gone as glowering clouds hulk on a grainy, grey horizon.

Hat’s gone back to school. But the rains are here. And where I live, that’s a gift too.



October 19, 2011


A Skype conversation between my eldest daughter and I:

Her: I got my targets to assassinate; one is in my anthrop class.

Me: yes?

Her: So I have made a dagger and will take him out today

Me: what do you mean targets to assassinate (I am still assimilating the first bit, I haven’t taken cognisance of the homemade dagger and impending homicide yet)

Her : I joined the assassins guild, where you get given three targets and have to kill them

Me: (this is quite alot to assimilate now) not really kill them?!

Her: yes mum, REALLY kill them. Duh.


Such are the traditions at Cambridge apparently. The dagger will doubtless join the plethora of evening dresses that were evidently imperative to life at university too, ‘do you know how many formals there are?’ she demanded in Primark (for my budget, especially given the half dozen required, only goes so far). No. I do not. Nor did I know what tubbing was (rowing, if you didn’t either). Though I do understand debating, stand-up comedy and volunteering for the elderly, all of which she has also engaged in. One must wonder when the academics are going to happen: today, presumably, when she takes out her victim in her anthropology class.

I walked around Trinity in awe. It is a beautiful college in a lovely city. It was broiling white-hot day that day: a melting 30 degrees. In October? The college porters, in their bowler hats, wore short shirt sleeves and were delightful. One engaged us in a lengthy conversation about a previous student who’d had – at his disposal – a lear jet on a near by airstrip. My daughter will have to use the bus.


Husband and I didn’t even pretend to be cool, we snapped away and made our daughter wear her new gown for even more pictures, ‘oh god how embarrassing’, she said.

I wrote to her afterwards. Keep a journal I instructed. Write everything down. Save every single ticket for every single occasion. Partly so that I might enjoy her experience vicariously but mainly so that she remembers because when she’s old and addled and embarrassing like her mother, she might not.

And then we came home. 9 hours in a plane, 12 in a car and were jolted back to Outpost reality.

And skyped conversations about imminent assassinations.