Archive for September, 2019

Onwards. Minding my Step.

September 25, 2019


I finished Kate Spicer’s Lost Dog late last night and cried soft snotty sobs into my pillow.  When I told Hat I was going to read it she asked, ‘you sure that’s a good idea, Mum?’   But it was. It was because it reminded me that the madness that descends when you lose a precious four legged companion is quite normal.

I keep walking. Just Jip and me now. Miles and miles each evening beneath two mountains which blush at the setting sun. Sometimes when I walk, I walk past ranks of sorghum which sway in the breeze and whose seedy heads are rattled when clouds of quelea take flight which makes me jump. And then freeze stock still in case it’s a buffalo.


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There are buffalo on the farm. I see evidence of them. Their tread. Their dung. Sometimes still too moist for my liking. I stop still then too and have a careful look around. And once, just beyond my garden. Five of them.  They gazed in my direction beyond a bed of Strelitzia as I stood and stared squarely back from safe confines of the sitting room.


And elephant.  Their tread is less light than the buffalo. They have been on the rampage in the avocado trees and left tangled, torn branches sliced and felled.  One evening as I let Jip out for a last pee she went nuts – boldly barking the odds from the relative safety of the kitchen step and then I heard the unmistakable irritated blow of an elephant as if to say, ‘oh for God’s sake, do shut up!’. Ant did not believe me. But I heard the eles that night, near the veggie patch. And what’s more, Jip heard them too. Definitely.  The elephant left the veggie garden alone where porcupine did not, a whole family ripped through the maize crop and scoffed the lot. What a bunch of pricks, I said to Ant. He didn’t think it was as funny as I did.

I live on a chicken farm. Sometimes we get the old overflow. Yesterday I got ten, ready for the deep freeze. TEN. They arrived in a fertilizer sack on the back of a motor bike and I had to madly cull contents of freezer before they all got too warm. Life on a chicken farm has solved one of life’s great riddles. Ant told me. Chicken and egg? The chicken definitely came first he announced months ago. How do you know I asked? ‘Several hundred arrived on the farm in a lorry, no sign of any eggs’.

Almost time for a walk. Jip is beginning to stalk me lest I have forgotten. She follows me into the loo. I will pull on a hat, put on my trainers and we will walk.

And I will not look back.


Long day, long walk





Running Away, Feeling Small

September 16, 2019


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The Ruaha is spilling and swallow-you-whole enormous. When we fly in, we float up the river’s throat like an eagle riding a thermal and I-spy elephants drinking. And then it’s to camp and to work as the heat sinks into my bones and makes me move too slowly. That and lunch.

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This is the funny thing about the work I do. Like living on a virtual magic carpet; I write for a paper in Hong Kong from my African mountainside office with a Labrador curled at my feet using one foot as a pillow. Or I write from a canvassed verandah above a sandy korongo where the occasional wheeze of a breeze tempts you briefly to believe it really is cooling down. It’s not. The rumble I hear is not thunder, it’s the soft pachydermic purr of a bull elephant as he ambles through camp. How silent a foot fall for so big an animal.
We are a flurry of activity – this little media crew – we bundle into and out of landcruisers with camera equipment and hats and water bottles and breakfast and I am astonished – at 6am – at the bracing chill of pre dawn. When the sun clambers languorously into a sky the colour of duck-down, it’s hard to believe you’ll be willing it back down by eleven.
I interview Masai herdsmen, scientists, a conservationist (whose encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife delivers drama to even the tiniest ecosystem, the smallest creature) and a poacher turned safari scout. I think that’s the best bit about what I do: when I call myself ‘writer’ I am afforded license to ask questions I mightn’t otherwise.


We spend hours on game drives, catching wildlife, distilling a huge sprawling wild space into the scope of a lens; the leopard we see is fleet of foot; a blur through the grass. The nine lionesses are so fullfat of antelope that they barely stir but lie flat on their backs playing dead.


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But the chalk striped kudu mill amongst the combretum calm as can be and delicately pluck off the plant’s fire engine red tooth brush bristled flowers whcih they nibble daintily and I marvel at their contentment.




That ought to be my takeaway: find inner peace and steady a while. That and remember how small you really are.


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Just a Dog

September 3, 2019


I keep telling myself, sternly, ‘she was just a dog.’

But even dogs leave gaps. And in my often lonely life, where company is rare and precious, gaps gouged let an icy draught in.

I got Pili 9 years ago when life was at its loneliest in the Outpost; Hat had just gone to Real School.

I took a plane to the north, hitched a lift across the border, scooped up an Andrex puppy and got a lift all the way home again; 1 000 kilometers with a yellow bundle that gravitated between back seat and my lap.  She made me laugh the moment she arrived.  She whined at the foot of my high bed until I scooped her quietly up so she could lie softly, triumphantly, at on top of the duvet. Six months said my husband, ‘she can sleep there for six months’. We made it to nine before he noticed.

She tormented the cats. Adored water. Watched television.

From the Outpost we did thousands and thousands and thousands of miles together. In the four years when our lives slid sideways and I found myself lurching from house to house, home to home, one place to another, she was my constant; she was more constant, more present than my husband who often found himself in another part of the world to me for the show must go on and bills must be paid.

We walked on beaches (so that she bore a perennial habit to hunt for something, anything, even in a puddle, lest a fish or an urchin or an eel lie within muddy shallows; her two front paws paddling and her tail wagging). We walked through bush thick with the rattle of leaves so that I only knew where she was for the clatter of undergrowth or the cackle of indignant guinea fowl that she sent skywards. And then later, I’d sip a beer and pick fat ticks from her yellow coat.

She was the best traveller, in cars, in planes. She lay curled obediently beside me, a cat, another dog, a case, a crate of chickens and waited until we got there. Wherever there was. Sleeping, her snoring was occasionally interrupted by a flock of francolin only she could see but which I knew she was chasing for the twitch of her feet.

And then, quite suddenly, and before her time, she got sick and she died.

I got back from the vets and wept as I picked her golden hairs from the seat of my car where she had moulted in that short last journey.

Then I whistled up Jip and walked for miles beneath the mountain. Sometime Jip looked back, her black brow furrowed in puzzlement, ‘Where’s Pil?’ and sometimes, because I forgot about the recent gap, I whistled and called. ‘Come dogs!’ remembering too late, there is only one.  I watch the horizon for a bit, the dust, the sky, if I watch and wait long enough, can I will her into view?

Just a dog?

Just a mum?