Archive for April, 2019

Alone? Or Lonely?

April 23, 2019


So I did embark on my MA. I have struggled through the first year.

I have not found the words hard: the writing, the reading. Nor  – even – the discipline that must attend study at home. What I have found hard is writing into a void. Here – here in this cosy space I have carved in the blogosphere (albeit a space talcy with dust and festooned with cobwebs for I don’t air it nearly enough), I have created a kindly space for my words; I know this for occasionally a reader drops me a line so I know that even as I whisper into the ether, I am heard.   Writing into the void cast by dislocated, distance learning is  isolating.   Nobody’s listening. Nobody will talk back, say hello.

It is appropriate, then, that for my EMA essay I have chosen to write about loneliness. What does it mean to be Lonely? And what does it mean to be Alone? On that I am clear. Loneliness bubbles up inside a person, like a shiver and then it sits coldly in your soul. In London. At a party.  It is intrinsic. It is not a choice. It is discombobulating at best, terrifying at worst.

Alone-ness feels like a option. Leave me Alone.

You cannot – by definition – be Alone in a marriage. (There are two of you).

But you can be Lonely in one.

The first time I felt the metallic taste of something like loneliness on my tongue was when Hat joined her siblings at school. Her fledgling chick feathers ruffled and small wings spread and off she flew.   But that was a not real loneliness. That was redundancy; there is a difference. I learned to Make Jam – fast – and that was a good thing given what came after.

The Outpost was often lonely but I was not alone. I had Ant and – for three of those five  years – I had my glorious Hat who brought sunshine and smiles and feathers and stones and laughter and crazy madcap stories.  Loneliness was new to me and I was often not gracious in its company; you heard me hiss and stamp my feet and you were patient with my ranting. My loneliness was of the brightly coloured exotic variety. I did loneliness as few do: under huge skies, miles from anywhere with snakes in the garden.


With time I got better at the Lonely so that even when I was Alone – because Ant was thousands of miles away for work and Hat was at school not far from her siblings on the Norfolk coast – I found I managed the time better. It no longer spilt from my hands, threatened to drown me. With time I found I could slice it into bite-size chunks that were manageable. I didn’t choke on it.  I learned to notice the tiny so that the enormity of my predicament did not overwhelm. Loneliness adds beauty to life. It puts a special burn on sunsets and makes night air smell better, said Henry Rollins. He’s right.

The real loneliness came after that. After the Outpost. When life went wrong and plans unravelled like balls of string the end of which was attached to a kitten who was recklessly tossing it hither and thither without a care as to where it ended up.  By then all my children were the other side of the world, at school, at uni, at work. And by then the situation was such that I was often alone as Ant had to find work far from wherever we pitched whatever semblance of transient home we hobbled together. In a two year period we spent almost half of it apart. My yellow dog was a younger companion in those far away days.

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Then I felt the chill of real Loneliness. Sleeping alone, eating alone, rarely going out because my natural reticence meant staying in felt easier.  Even now, even now five years later, when I reflect back on that dark episode of not knowing what next, of living from one unsatisfactory phone call (broken either by a shaky signal or a shaky me) to the next,  I feel a deep sense of something visceral. Is it sadness? dread? I never want to do that again.

The neuro I saw for the migraines that descended (“stress, dear”, he said, kindly) gave me medication which made me sleep so deeply that that I woke feeling as if I’d been hit over the head so that I shambled disorientated through my day.   And shuffle ineffectively through a day is what you do when there is nothing, nobody, to punctuate your hours. I’d get to noon and realise I had not eaten. I’d get to four and find the day too long, so I’d draw the curtains, open a beer and put the telly on. I would pretend the day was done. One down. How many more to go before I am not this Lonely?


So here. Now. Where I live on my mountain where buffalo venture into the garden, where elephant careen around Avocado trees at night, where the porcupines and bush pigs ransack Ant’s veggie garden, where my naughty dogs chase bush buck and jackals on an evening walk, here even though my children are still too far away, here when on my own, which is for only a few hours a day, there is time to write, to read, with a cat kneading m lap, to walk, to collect my thoughts and gather myself; here, I am happy and content and in control.  Time does not gallop over me so that I am so winded I cannot stand. Here, I can climb into my car and meet a friend for lunch. Go and have a haircut. Buy butter in the store an hour away.

Here the solitariness is my choice. I am Alone. I am not Lonely. Not anymore.

And that is the difference.



The Bush

April 22, 2019

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The rains are late. Late, late.

They say, here they say, that Mozambique sucked all our rain up and poured it down further south in devastating torrents. That’s Africa for you: feast or famine. Drought or flood.   We don’t do Middle Ground in this part of the world.

The heat bears down so that the earth is singed and sharp grass whispers hoarsely and then the baked ground sends it right back up again, as if you’re in a rotisserie being toasted from all sides.


We are in the game park where weary animals – many with young for Mother Nature is out of sync – the rain isn’t here but the babies are – must walk and walk and walk, their feet and hooves kick up plumes of whitepepper dust, their heads are bent as they follow wellworn paths so that the earth is threaded with the ribbons of their endless, ancient tread.

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The river has shrunk to skinny ribbons and sporadic pools and elephants dig in the sand for a wetness they can smell but can’t see.  The occasional waterhole has soupy depths just enough for the zebra to get in up to their shoulders, I imagine cool relief flood their faces as they sink in.


Far to the south of the park, though, the Silele Swamp is an astonishing green,  a wide brushstroke of lime between blonde grasslands and a pale high cloudless sky. No rain today, then, we say. The marsh grass is still rudely luridly green, I imagine roots that snake deep into the soil in search of a drink. Game swarms to this place.  Families of elephant rush in and languish, wildebeeste, buffalo, giraffe. As if Noah’s Arc has docked somewhere close by and let everybody out to stretch their legs.

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From our camp, in the high hot afternoon when the cicadas sing a breathy, exhausted tune, I sit in the shade and scan the space below with my lens. Here Africa spills away and the game can trek unmarked by us, uninhibited. Giraffe straddle shallow pools of water to drink, their long legs stretched wide apart so that their necks can drop low enough, then they seem as elegant A frames against a dwindling river bed. The zebra hack and bark, the baboon fight and I can hear their squeals and screams stream up the valley towards me, the impala huff and puff and occasionally I hear the thrilling trumpet of an irritated elephant.

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At night, as I lie in my bed with a full fat moon so bright it’s as if a careless Celestial resident left the lights on,  I hear the bellow of lions.

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We can’t find them come dawn though. Somewhere over distant savannah, a halo of vultures circles lazily on the soft pearly morning air. Dad always used to say – where there are vultures, there are lion. He also used to say, where there are tsetse flies there are lion. Those we bear in abundance, they bite ankles hard so that hot red itchy weals swell. They are armour plated; every time I swat one, it shakes its heads, regains its balances and carries on apparently unfazed.

young ostriches

Whenever I am lucky enough to escape to the Bush (why the bush, asks B’s girlfriend so that we must explain what we have always known – a bush is a shrub, the Bush is the endless millionmile scramble of gloriously untamed, un-reined Africa), whenever I am forced to abandon screen, an umbilical connection to the ether, I feel liberated. Immensely, enormously, madly, recklessly liberated, as if all my senses have been let out to play and dance and sing.

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