Consolation Prizes

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.

7 Responses to “Consolation Prizes”

  1. Kit Says:

    Good luck to Hat, North Norfolk in winter can be freezing – my grandparents and great uncle and aunt used to live there, near Sheringham, my cousin still does. Memories of biting winds and chilly beaches… summer and winter!
    That’s the longest school run, I’ve heard of!

  2. R. Sherman Says:

    Wonderful descriptions. I wish I could’ve had that mountain view.


  3. mapesburyMum Says:

    Its going to be cold term for Hat – but so beautiful – autumn colours and then stark winter colours, and autumn this year is really pretty (or am I just getting older so appreciating these things more?)

  4. MsCaroline Says:

    A hard goodbye, but the mountains were a gift, weren’t they? I leave in January to trundle Son#1 back to the US for university….dreading it.

  5. Livvy U Says:

    It is so good to come here, after so long, and find that you are still writing so beautifully and are still your grounded self. Thankyou for the writing in this post, Livvy

  6. Family Affairs Says:

    It always nearly makes me cry when you have to part with your children again, but at least you sound very positive this time and it is nearly Christmas. WOOHOO!! Lx

  7. azrowan Says:

    This post was so beautiful it made me cry. Thanks for writing, I understand how hard it is to part with a loved one

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