Archive for January, 2016


January 29, 2016


The Serengeti is soft, veiled like a new bride in a lacy haze, worn so low that it’s not until we tip to land that I see the airstrip, a length of dust, bone white and straight as it cuts through newgreen plains.

I tumble out of the plane, the only passenger, as royalty, wings of my own, the pilot is young – he could be my son – but he wears Old Gent’s manners and insists on carrying my suitcase to the makeshift ‘arrivals’ hall – a scrap of shade, dirt floored, three faded blue plastic chairs – and checks that I have a lift to camp. I do, I say, but I am waiting for my friend and partner in crime, E. She arrives shortly after me – the airstrip in this busy, busy national park is a veritable hive, small aircraft buzz in and out as bees. E is tall and blonde, one stride to two of my steps so that I am permanently trotting in her wake. Ours is a long friendship and an old working relationship. She glides from her plane, glamorous in hat and scarf, toting kilos of camera equipment.

We bump our way across acres of Africa, which spills wildly all around us, such reckless, careless, arms-thrown-wide abandonment, three lioness, bored of being papped roadside, wander nonchalantly off so that soon all we can see are the tops of their ears and the tips of their tails flicking in irritation above the grass, which is high and softly feathered after generous rain that has left the roads pockmarked with slivers of puddles and slicks of chocolate-mousse mud.

The work, three days of it, is exacting but rewarding, E gets her pictures, I get my stories and we try not to be distracted by the family of warthog who come to graze in camp and the comical troupe of mongoose that tear up to the mess where we are working, amidst tripods and trailing leads and open laptops, stand up on their rear legs and gaze in astonishment at the unusual and faintly absurd scene of two girls squinting into screens and then scamper off tut-tutting loudly.

The relative peace of this picture is shattered with the arrival of guests, a honeymooning couple – and Africa Virgins – from Miami, full of their recent nuptials and travels to date. I eavesdrop on the groom as he regales his father with tales of their adventures; ‘You can keep Europe’, he says, ‘Spain, France, Italy, all the Eiffel Towers in the world, none of that comes close to this, to Africa’.

And at night I lie in my tent and listen to the droll laughter of hyenas and the bark of skittish zebra and I think how lucky; how lucky I am to be an African.




Winging my Way

January 11, 2016
winging my way

Arriving on the Emerald Isle

I arrived on a glorious winter’s evening; the sky was blue but last night’s snow was still on the ground, ice-white and cold.

My team and I are straggled around the globe – Ant in East Africa, two of my children, as I landed in Ireland, headed back to London via Dubai and the third at work near Cambridge. A bigwideworld made tinier, less intimidating, by the worldwideweb. Thankfully.

I am here to collect Mum – to escort her back to African sunshine and sounds.

A whistle-stop tour. I write to the sound of a gale that is picking up over the hills, a leaden sky, skeletal trees. And I am snug in a well-warmed, brightly-lit kitchen. In a week I will be peeled down to shorts and bare feet listening to the crows shout obscenities at the dogs as the sun leans on her horizon and the fat shade of mango trees stretches long and low.

And there, against that backdrop, I will teach Mum to read.



Gaps. Again.

January 5, 2016

And then almost as soon as it begun, it’s over.


Decorations are packed away; fairy lights taken down and hastily wound so that they will be a bugger to unpick next December.

And the children begin to leave.

I dread their going in the same way I dreaded the return to boarding school when I was little; I awake with the same sinking, sickening, base-of-belly feeling that I woke up with back then. Always a Sunday; we always went back to school on a Sunday. And a Sunday it was this time too.

I promised her I would not cry. And I remained stoic as I nagged about tickets and passports and telephone chargers and remember-to-calls, as I bundled her into the  car and strapped her in – she’s 22 for God’s sake, but she was too kind to remind me that day. I had helped her pack the night before and made her egg sandwiches for the road. And I held her close in a hug and breathed deep and held on.

And then I let go. And I waved bravely as the car went through the gates and onto the road away.

And then I cried. Sitting on the edge of the loo, seat down, her cast off pajamas in my hands, my face buried so that I could inhale deeply the last of her scent, Chloe, door closed. Great shuddering sobs.

It is not that I am unhappy, not that she is so that I must fear her leaving, it is not that I have failed to learn how to stop the gaps that my departing children create, bigger as they grow up and carve out their own, seprate lives.

It is simply that for so long my children, mothering, has comfortably defined me, a default into which I slip with happy, unconscious ease so that each leaving reminds me it is time to begin to recast a little of myself.

I blow my nose, tip her pajamas into the laundry basket, scold myself for being a baby, wash my face and walk onto the verandah .

Ant has made a fresh pot of coffee, ‘come’, he says, ‘sit beside me’, and he pats the chair next to him as he drags it closer. He pours me a mug, puts his arm around my shoulder.

I sip. I sigh, ragged from sobbing. And I smile.

It keeps going – life; you have to keep up.