Archive for the ‘failed DG’ Category

Putting Bread on the Table

April 18, 2008

Hat says, ‘There’s something wrong with the bread; I don’t think it’s meant to look like that’.


She means the bread I’m making; the loaf that is ready, judging by penetrating beep of bread machine, but has yet to be removed and sliced for breakfast.


I got it for Christmas from Best Beloved. The bread machine. He gave it to me because we cannot always buy bread in the Outpost and because he could not bear for me to attempt to make my own unaided as I did in manner persuaded to me by Isabella Beeton when at 23 and newly married and naïve I thought the ability to make yeast come alive with fat bubbles and elevate dough to glossy springiness was fundamental to a happy marriage. Luckily it was not: though the yeast stayed stubbornly flat and the dough was the consistency of a cannon ball and the bread utterly inedible, though best beloved suggested I sell it to demolition mobs that were breaking down old buildings in the city we lived in then – Dar es Salaam – in favour of newer ones, we have remained together.


So. Almost twenty years on and because we no longer live within a 20 mile radius of a reasonable bakery, I was presented with a bread machine. Something small and dainty and sparkly in trademark blue Tiffany bag might have been nice to own, might have impressed my friends, something from Prada might have done too. But neither are of much use in hard-line, out-lying Outpost.  So a FastBake it was instead.


The family watched as I fastidiously measured the ingredients for the first attempt into the tin with the precise little measuring spoons provided and regular reference to recipe in accompanying booklet. They observed as I carefully set the timer and they applauded when my fat, light loaf appeared on the breakfast table the next morning.


Three months later, though, and I had become a little slapdash. Remembering there’s no bread for breakfast at 11pm when you’ve had a few glasses of Red isn’t a good approach to cooking. In my rush to get the necessary done – ‘I must just put the bread on’, I’d say importantly to BB when he enquired (by hollering through house) if I was planning on coming to bed anytime that week – I began to carelessly gauge amounts, quite disregarding the ominous little warnings in booklet: Please use measuring cup and spoons provided accurately. I also cut back on the salt – two tablespoons of it – since I thought it’d please my doctor if I did so whilst simultaneously displeasing gathering cellulite which I understand thrives on a diet stacked with sodium secreted into benign looking foods like homemade bread, for example.


On Hat’s ‘I don’t think it’s meant to look like this’, I got up to examine the fruits of my midnight labours. And she was quite right: bread’s not meant to look like that. It’s meant to look arched with pride and deliciously, inviting promise. Not slumped with soggily, grey misery.


Hat is quite a stickler. Unlike her sloppy mother.


‘I think we should look them up in the book again, Mum’, she said, ‘the instructions, she pressed.


I did.


Under Troubleshooting.


Who’d have thought you could troubleshoot a loaf of bread?


It said: if you are so slovenly you can’t be bothered to measure things out properly or if you think you know better than us and begin to invent your own recipes or if you ditch the salt because you a vain cow who would rather have sleek thighs than feed her family properly, your bread will sink disastrously in the middle and be hard and lumpen and you might just as well use it as demolition fodder. Or words to that effect. I got the message though.


I made my bread at 7 last night. Before I was too tired to see my way around the kitchen and before the Red had interfered with my eyesight so that I was unable to decipher the calibrations on the cups and spoons. 


I will – as a consequence – be able to set before Hat for breakfast today a loaf that has risen to perfect roundness, a loaf with a firm, brown crust and innards the consistency of warm marshmallows upon which her butter will melt just as she likes.


And I shall be able to bask in both her praise and a very, very rare glow of domestic and maternal success.




I am going away for a bit. Far away. For a fortnight. I shall begin my journey tomorrow and arrive at my destination 48 hours later. I like to think I’m going where I am because I’m needed there for now, might make a difference. I’m not sure I will.


But I have to try.


The week that was …

March 8, 2008

Monday: Hat has acquired a guitar. She wants lessons. There isn’t a music academy in Outpost. There isn’t, as far as I am aware, a music teacher.

She grows increasingly distraught: 

– But I’ve got a guitar now, and I shall never, ever learn how to play it and it will just sit here being useless, she sobs.

I have a rare light bulb moment and write a letter to our landlords at the Anglican diocese next door. The church band practices regularly outside tiny St Stephen’s at the end of our road. I see them as I drive past: strumming or drumming or fingering a keyboard beneath the shade of a mango tree, an electric cord snaking through the dust to add power and amplification to various instruments. Perhaps one of the players would be able to help?

Shortly after dispatching my letter a besuited gentleman, who introduces himself as Christopher, appears. He has found, he tells me, a guitar playing member of the band who is prepared to teach Hat. Hat, who has rushed eagerly out to greet our visitor, does a small jig to show how pleased she is.

– He can come on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, says Christopher.

– Gosh, I say, what’s his fee?– 25,000/- (about $20)

– Gosh, I say (again), that’s quite a lot for a lesson (do the math: it’s almost 400 bucks a month).

– No, no, no, not per lesson, Christopher assures me, that’s the total fee for teaching your daughter everything he knows about music and the guitar.

Either our new teacher, who is called George, does not appreciate how much Hat has to learn or he has little in the way of knowledge to impart.

Later, when we drive to the duka, Hat notices the band practicing. She leans far out of the car window, grinning and waving. A tall man, holding a guitar, waves back.

– Do you think that’s him, Mum, do you think that’s George?

– Perhaps, I say.

– Will he recognise me on Monday?

Probably. Given that she’s the only European child hankering for guitar lessons in a several hundred kilometer radius.

Tuesday: I receive the editorial report on my book. It is 14 pages long. It says that providing I’m prepared to do the work recommended (which is considerable), I could, possibly, with a kinder market (not one that favours the autobiographies of footballers wives) and a lot of luck, be in with the smallest hint of a chance at publication. 

What do you think? Shelve it or give it a bash?

Wednesday: Husband returns from a day in the field with smallholders. He met, he says, a delightful old boy who did not know his age but remembers he was a young teenager at the start of World War I. We calculate he must be well over 100.  Fit with it, observed husband: ”he walked with a stick and his teeth were falling out but he was all there and his hearing was perfect”.

I’d like to spend a day beneath a tree with him, drinking tea and listening to his stories. He must have a few.

Thursday: Hat and I walk the dogs. Hat is wearing a skirt and for reasons unknown suddenly drops a curtsey in the dust.

– did you have to do that, Mum, she asks.

– what?

– curtsey, when you were little?

I’m not that old I tell her. I’m not 108 like the old boy her father met yesterday. Even if I sometimes look it.

Friday: Hat watches a movie on the telly, Harriet the Spy. It prods a long buried memory to shuffle to the forefront of my addled brain: her older siblings and I watched the same film in a cinema in England as I awaited her birth. It’s why she’s called what she is: I hadn’t considered the name until then.  It is about a girl of 11 who wants to be a writer. Like Hat: an eleven year old aspirant author. It’s why my own Harriet now wants a typewriter. A computer simply wouldn’t be the same.

– typewriters are a bit old fashioned, I tell her, it might be hard to fine one.

– but the Outpost is old fashioned, Mum …

What to say to that? It is. We’re in a time warp here. Dragging our feet in the dust, decades behind the rest of much racier well-heeled Tanzania.

– but why do you want a typewriter, I ask?

– I’d like to listen to the sound of the keys clacking.

The encouraging tune that accompanies writerly imagination.Perhaps that’s what I need …

Saturday: husband leaps out of bed very early to help a colleague butcher a pig they have purchased together. (This is an outpost, remember that: we don’t have the luxury of a selection of vacuumed packed meatcuts to choose from in the supermarket). He arrives home some hours later with kilos of pork including, I am thrilled to hear, the animal’s head. So that I can ”make brawn” apparently.

I wrinkle my nose at the suggestion so that husband knows exactly what I think of the idea.

I am definitely getting a typewriter. In hope that hearing the sound of my (pretence at) working as busy, important author will dissuade husband from making suggestions that I should occupy myself in kitchen in manner of 1920’s housewife.

– have you got a recipe then, for brawn?

And he begins to dig about my kitchen.

– Delia will have one, wont’ she?

– Delia is too young I tell him.  Try Mrs Beeton.

He pulls Isabella Beeton’s tome on being domestic goddess down from shelf. Several families of cockroaches vacate the pages.

– they know it’s a good place to hide, observes husband sagely.

Most of my recipe books are: where once (whilst still hell bent on becoming DG) I cooked often (and badly and too hastily) the pages are splashed with cake mixture and tomato sauce and lemon pips. Infrequent forays into new culinary adventures, however, means recipe books rarely get an airing.

Or cockroaches, clearly, evacuation.   

My Week in Media

January 23, 2008

I’ve been tagged! I’ve been tagged! (Sorry, I’m just not cool enough to be blase about any kind of recognition). And by a proper, grown-up, does it for real journalist in Africa too, South of West (as opposed to wife, mother of three, pretending-to-be-journalist so she has something interesting to say at parties even though recent geography means there aren’t any to go to: hangups linger long). Thank you Mr Crilly.

And because of that I am obliged to tell you what I’ve read, watched, listened to and surfed in the past few days. Which really will go to show I’m not a proper journalist because my reading, viewing, listening and surfing aren’t nearly lofty enough to qualify for that. I only pretend to read the Spectator to impress people, in the hope they will be seduced into believing I’m alot cleverer than I am. When all I do in actuality, apart from tossing it nonchalantly onto the coffee table so that it’s seen, is alternate between salivating and giggling at Deborah Ross’s restaurant reviews.

So. To what I’ve read:

Deborah Ross. The Week (when I can find it). Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (and I had a job finding that last night too, so deeply buried was it beneath unread copies of the Spectator), ”what the bloody hell are you doing?” asked husband crossly. ”Trying to find my book” I replied just as crossly. ”Why don’t you leave it on your bedside table like normal people do?” I didn’t have an answer for that so continued to dig and finally unearthed it along with several dusty cuttings from the Sunday Times which have been lingering for months and which I still haven’t got round to reading. If I hadn’t found Salmon Fishing … I’d have picked up where I left off with Robert Guest in The Shackled Continent. ”Why do you have so many books beside your bloody bed, anway” asks irritated husband. Because, I tell him, in pompous voice I use when addressing him as the journalist I sometimes pretend I am, ”some are for relaxation, some are for research; Guest is research, for when I write my own bestseller on Africa”.

”And what’s the Spectator for then?”

”So that I know which restaurants to avoid. In the unlikely event I ever get near any of them”.

What I’ve Watched

Hannah Montana. Alot. Hat likes it and so if I find myself anywhere in the vicinity of her and the telly early evening, it’s Hannah she watches whilst I pretend not to. Because I’m too busy writing.

But it’s fine darling, you can still watch, it won’t distract me.

Are you sure Mum

Quite sure.

Then why can’t I hear you typing.

I also watch Sky, BBC World and, like South of West, BBC Food; Hat and I watch that together. And drool. Why can’t we make things like that to eat, Mum, she says, we ought to cook more. Being desperately hopeless housewife and failed DG I remind her (with sigh of relief as I count lucky stars, not something I do often on account of where I live) that Kaidi’s local duka does not sell mozarella or mascarpone or flaked almonds or pecan nuts. If it’s packet creme caramel you’re after, that’s great. If not, tough.

Last night I watched dire Romantic Comedy (I ought to know better: when is romance ever comical? really?) starring Richard Gere (who was once apparently famous for his association with a gerbil and more recently with Shilpa Shetty). Why do I do it? Waste 120 minutes in front of mindless drivel? Because, I suspect, I can’t decide what to read?

 If it’s Sunday, I watch Carte Blanche which usually reminds me what a desperate place Africa often is.

OK – what I’ve listened to:

BBC World Service, if I can get to the controls on the satellite radio beside husband’s bed first. TalkSport it not.

My ipod. Very loudly. Skipping the ghastly stuff eldest daughter uploaded onto it and replaying endlessly the stuff I did. It helps me to concentrate whilst writing. Mainly because it helps to distract me from Hannah Montana if I happen to be pretending to write in same room as Hat whilst she’s watching telly …

And finally what I’ve surfed

The Times, most days, and the Daily Mail. The Times because I aspire to be serious journalist. The Daily Mail because there is something deeply satisfying in knowing celebs don’t sport the looks they do because of luck or genes or macrobiotic diets.

This week surfing has been dictated by three commissions (no really, I’m not just saying that) – one on tobacco growing in Africa (big serious grown up piece), one on eating disorders (sadly on the up, a backlash to the antiobesity message?) and the third a contentious investigation into whether or not dads ought be encouraged into the delivery room or not.

I’ve also spent alot of time on the BBC’s learning sites in an effort to make Hat’s science lessons more interesting for her and less overwhelming for me. Never a scientist anyway, I am defeated by circuits, simple machines and that whole solid, liquid, gas thing. And whilst so doing I have stumbled across the BBC’s ingenious GCSE Bitesize revision pages . I told my son who sits his exams in four months about my find. He didn’t sound as thrilled as I’d hoped he might.

I also spend time every day checking out the depression stories delivered to my inbox by Google alerts. Sometimes I read encouraging stories: about new and realistic treatments that are being developed. Sometimes I read impossibly ridiculous ones: doctors who think Botox will cure depression – if a person cannot look depressed (because they cannot frown, say, or look sad),  they will not feel it. There’s educated reason for you. Sometimes, and at the moment in particular, my depression stories are about collapsing markets and global slumps. Which I suppose isn’t so different?

I’m going to tag Potty Mummy, Iota and Primal Sneeze if they can bear it because I think between them they’ll give us a good geographical spread on media: UK, the States and Ireland.

K. Bye now. Off to read the Speccie …

A Unlikely Visitor for Supper

January 21, 2008

Last night Sir Jack came for supper.

I hadn’t expected a visitor, Hat only alerted me to possibility of a guest whilst she was wallowing in her bath:

 Can one of my friends come round, Mum?

Sure. Where are you going? (Hat, of course, disappeared when both Madame Marcia and Marcella made their appearances)

My friend is the captain of a ship, I’m going to have supper with his crew.

Oh. Right.

Later, making scrambled egg (which is what constitutes dinner in the home of failed Domestic Goddesses), guest shambled into the kitchen.

He was wearing a large hat which obscured his face and walked with an obvious limp. Whilst on one foot he wore a boot (which looked remarkably like one I own), the other leg appeared to be missing both foot and boot.

Hello, said visitor gruffly in a really dodgy Cockney accent (not dissimilar to the one Hat had been practising for a couple of days enquiring whether she sounded ”English”), ”I’m Sir Jack”.

Oh hello, I said, trying not to giggle as I proffered a hand to shake. A hook (which I swear was the curled end of a metal coat hanger) shot out in response.

Good grief, I said, what on earth happened to your hand Sir Jack? … And your foot come to think of it. In fact, where is your foot?

Not wishing to be forward but unable to help myself, I tugged up the leg of my guest’s voluminous trousers (not something I would do ordinarily, really). I thought I caught a movement, a foot hastily retreating up inside the leg of his pants, but perhaps I’m just being uncharitable. For all I saw was a stick. A peg leg.

”Bloody sea lion”, said Sir Jack, ”ripped off my hand and my foot”.

Heavens I said, why did it do that?

“It was sitting on the X”.


”Yes, yes”’, he said impatiently, ”on the X Marks The Spot on my treasure map, had to move it off so I could get to my gold, innit?”.

Oh dear I say with as much concern as I can muster (despite swallowing laughter).

”It’s not funny, you know, bloody thing’

Your language, I remonstrate, is shocking.  I never swear, I say (madly crossing fingers)

No, he replies as quick as a flash, you just speak French instead.

Did my daughter tell you that?

She might ‘ave.

He stalked about my kitchen as I bunged bread into the toaster and opened a can of Baked Beans, his peg clipping against the floor.

And then I swore I heard him pass wind.

”You filthy bugger!” I said, feigning outrage.

“I seen a lot more filthy things in my time than you áve young lady”, he retorted without a trace of shame.

Having introduced Sir Jack to husband we all sit down to eat our eggs on toast.

I am aghast at my guest’s manners. They are beyond shocking. He eats with his mouth open and scoops food up with the fingers of his one working hand.

Would you like a drink, Sir Jack? I enquire

 Gin. He says.

We’re out, says my husband shortly.

I watch his slovenly manners for a bit longer and then can’t resist commenting, ”your table manners are shocking Sir Jack, do you get many invitations to dinner?”

”You try eating with a hook”, he says.

I keep quiet after that.

Dinner over and Sir Jack gets up and lumbers off. As an afterthought he tosses a 2p coin onto the table, ”keep the change”, he instructs gruffly.

Ooooh thanks, I’ll try not to spend it all at once.

Seconds later Hat skips out to join me in the kitchen where I am clearing up.

”How was supper with the crew?” I ask.

Disgusting, she says, and they ate like pigs, no manners at all.

Funny that, I say, Sir Jack’s were lacking too.


My daughter’s forays into the world of Make Believe are a new thing. They have made their debut in our lives since we made ours in the Outpost. I cannot decide whether they are born of a desire to be entertained, to entertain us or because, like me, the isolation is driving her ever so slightly potty. But it doesn’t matter. For they are always a happy distraction and every visitor she introduces us to is a wonderfully, colourful character whose brief presence is hugley welcome in a place largely devoid of company.


Empty Nest

January 17, 2008

There is an abandoned cricket bat in the back of my car.

It’s a metaphor for the sudden emptying of the house.

My son forgot it there. I’ll leave it where it is; lying behind my seat. Then every time I open the rear door to dump or retrieve shopping I shall see it and can briefly imagine him home and ready to bat a ball about.

We came home from our school run to find the house too tidy. Too quiet. Too jolly empty. Tiny pokey rooms have found big voices in their echoey amplification.

You can see the floor in Amelia’s room; no longer is it strewn with shoes, discarded clothes which she optimistically hopes will grow legs all of their own and make their way to the laundry basket unaided. No longer is there a cockroaches’ banquet of cereal bowls encrusted with muesli under her bed (remnants of midnight feasts, my daughter a hungry owl who makes nocturnal forays into the kitchen whilst we are fast asleep). The carpet in her room is no longer tangled. It has been pulled regimentally straight as if to compete for brownie points with the hospital corners of her bed. Drawers and cupboard doors are closed, no longer regurgitating their contents in colourful ribbons that hang out waiting to party with the debris on the floor. Why do I nag her to tidy her room; it’s very neatness now a miserable reminder she isn’t here.

And Ben’s, smaller, is similar, clinically spic and span. His bats (all but one) are standing to attention in the corner of the room, no longer languishing on the floor waiting for a game, waiting to trip me up. His shoes lined against the wall, toes pointing orderly ready to salute. I sit on his bed and notice a stray sock peeking out from beneath it. It has gathered a happy amount of dust.

I have regained control of the TV remote: no longer do I have to catch snatches of news between cricket test matches and rowdy music from pop bands with unpronounceable names. But dour monotones issuing forth from BBC World don’t make me want to dance, not like Mika does, until Amelia begs me to stop: ”Maaaaaarm, you’re so embarrassing!”.

The scatter cushions on the sofa are no longer scattered because a teen lies sprawled in their place. Instead they’re sitting up stiffly. All plumped and pompous.

Hat says, ”school’s OK Mum but I prefer the holidays”.

I know what she means.

Why don’t you play in your brother and sisters’ rooms I ask. She looks a little doubtful, their territory, clearly marked (doors plastered with Keep Out signs and lewd skull and crossbones) is usually out of bounds. Go on, I urge.

She does. Ben’s bedroom floor is now a deathtrap of Lego shrapnel and the miniature residents of her doll’s house for whom she is building a hotel, she says.

Perhaps she and I can escape there one weekend?


December 27, 2007

My protracted silence has been borne of many things – Christmas amongst them, naturally. A house bursting happily at the seams too, strewn with discarded wrapping paper and the scatter cushions I acquired when I aspired – long ago – to be a proper housewife lie, well, scattered but not elegantly upon tidy sofas, rather as ankle twisting ambushes across the sitting room floor.

The mince pies are dwindling. I thought about Kate Reddy, the heroine of Allison Pearson’s book I don’t know how she does it as I crossly and hotly pummelled shortcrust pastry and urged it unwilling into pie tins: Kate Reddy buys her mince pies, decants them from giveaway packaging and – in a bid to appear a proper mother – knocks them about with a rolling pin to make them look a little more homemade. I didn’t need to knock mine about; they looked knocked about all by themselves. And I’m not sure I projected the image of proper mother as I made my own, swearing in frustration as bloodyminded pastry sprang back into the shrunken shapes I was trying to avoid or clung to the worktops in a desperate last attempt to dodge a hot oven. No matter; they are being eaten.

We sourced our Christmas tree in the bush during a picnic when it rained and the dog ate the roast chicken, we decorated it outside where it looked quite ordinary until night fell and the strings of lights reflected merrily in our small pool. Christmas Eve came and my children – presumably to prove my lessons in trying to live with a Glass Half Full approach to life were reaping reward – hung pillow cases for Santa in lieu of stockings: why, after all, hang something so meagre when – being the optimisists your mother aspires to mould you into – you could aim much higher.

Christmas lunch was mellow, cold roast chicken and ham alternated with chilled beer and dips in the pool, and all between cloudbursts. The rain which falls in torrential sheets as I write has, in recent days, drowned the services of the internet, the telephone and the satellite television connection several times.

So the year fades. And all before I managed to write a single Christmas card; does the time really pass faster as we get older or does it just seem that way?  Will I manage to compose a Round Robin letter in the New Year to crow about my children’s achievements and aspirations (which include Amelia’s second ear piercing in 2007 and plans for a belly ring in 2009). Or will good intentions lie scattered – like the cushions and the mince pie crumbs – across a floor strewn with discarded wrapping and damp towels?


Not Enough Hours in the Day …

November 1, 2007

When I moved to the Outpost, people asked, in tones of ill-disgused alarm, ”but what are you going to do all day?”

Defensively (because there’s no other way to respond a question that suggests you are about to relocate to position of exceedingly dull) I said, ”oh I’ll be fine, I’m very good at entertaining myself”.

I’m not. Not terribly. But I am very good at sort of faffing. Immersing myself in the here and now and being quite happy to plod about there. I write. Or at least that’s what I tell people I do (and sometimes it’s true) and writing is a gloriously time consuming career; I can spend hours gazing out of the window dressing daydreaming up as loftier Writer’s Block.

I had envisaged evolving as a Domestic Goddess. Drumming up 101 exciting things to do with a mango (souffle? chutney? jam?) but alas I find that geography hasn’t improved my desire to spend time in the kitchen.

I thought about learning French. But I haven’t got round to registering with Rosetta Stone.  Too busy, you see.

Doing what? I hear you ask.

Well. I get up. Anywhere between half four and half seven depending on whether insomnia has plagued or not. I drink tea. I check emails.  I get Hat up.

We whizz a smoothie for breakfast (water melon, pineapple and banana – every day because the market offers nothing else) and make some toast. I drink more tea.

We do school. Until almost lunchtime. It depends on whether or not we have any experiments to set up. We did yesterday; currently we are breeding bacteria from soup in three water bottles. Hat can’t wait to see what they smell like after three days. I can.

Sometimes there’s time before lunch then to nip to Kaidi The Arab’s duka to shop. Or practice shopping at any rate; rarely do we acheive our list so we just get what we can, stand at a counter and listen to the ding of an old till (I feel it’s important to maintain an understanding of shopping protocol, lest I forget – something my husband says is unlikely to happen). Sometimes we go to the market. For bananas, water melons and pineapples.

Husband comes home for lunch and we eat a sandwich. Or a chapati with tuna stuffed inside masquerading as trendier Wrap.  I was quite pleased with my (rare) domestic ingenuity in the sandwich/Wrap thing but poor old Husband and Hat getting a mite bored of them now I think.

After lunch Hat reads. She takes herself (and whichever author is prevailing favourite) off to the South American string hammock donated by a great aunt which is strung between two lemon trees and reads and rocks and occassionally sings. Which is truly fabulous to behold.  Sometimes she dons her dad’s sunglasses.

I can watch her from where I am Working (aka gazing out the window having succumbed to another irksome bout of Writers Block). She is oblivious of me. It’s the best way to watch a child. When they don’t know you are.

We swim in the afternoon. When the heat becomes so oppressive we can’t think straight anymore and are sliding into that sleepy place the dogs and cats seem to occupy all day, we pile into our small pool and cool off. Hat invents all kinds of mad games, yesterday’s game involved trying to float in a bucket atop the water. We sank. Sometimes we throw pennies and race to collect them. Sometimes we swim, independently of each other, she in her own watery world, me in mine.

Then, towelled dry we drink tea, Hat at her homework, me at my laptop (the reality of a deadline having finally dawned). Sometimes Hat does her homework sitting in the swing her dad made her out of an old tractor tyre.

The dogs wake from their heat induced reverie and begin to bug us for a walk, which means driving to the dam. Which we do, as the sun is sinking taking the ennervating broil of the day with it as it collapses into syrupy yellows and mellow pinks behind the mango trees and distant kopjes.

We’re home by dark, Hat is tipped into a bath as I take courage and face my kitchen in a bid to throw some semblace of supper together. She emerges with wet hair to enquire what we’re going to eat, politely (and prudently) says, ”oh yum” and disappears to play with instructions to ”put some mozzi spray on” ringing in her ears. Husband opens me a beer as I ferret in the fridge.

By eight we’ve eaten whatever it is I’ve managed to throw together. By nine I’m fading in front of the telly and urging Hat to go to bed. She is indignant. But I want to read/play/write a letter to Alice.

But you can’t I tell her, because it’s bed time and you have school tomorrow (a school she and I have dubbed the Outpost Academy of Excellence).

She makes a face. ”Do you know Mum, I am just too busy these days, I never have any time for anything”.

I’m delighted.

For as much as I was pretty sure I could muddle my way through long days in isolation, I did harbour unspoken fears about Hat being bored.

That she isn’t, that she’s trying to wiggle out of bedtime because she still has things to do, is heartening in the extreme.

A Day in the Life of the Struggling Writer

September 19, 2007

5.30 am: wake up, try to recall absolutely brilliant, bestselling story idea that popped into head at 2am but fail (research suggests those of us who grandly assume we have a creative streak have our best ideas at the most inconvenient time of day if you like – conventionally – to sleep at night).

5.45 am: get up, make coffee in the hope caffeine will jog memory and release necessary from Ideas Bank. It doesn’t.

6.15 am: turn on computer and check mails in hope that one of the 47 newspaper/magazine editors you wrote to yesterday with marvellous pitch for a feature has replied with a commission.  3 have. You open each message with trembling fingers.

The first reads: “so and so is out of the office until 24 January 2011, in an emergency please contact x” (you’ve contacted x before and know that not much you have to offer will be considered an emergency)

Disappointed, you read the second. “thank you so much for your idea.  It is very interesting and would make a great feature for our pages but unforunately we have a story on precisely the same topic in next month’s edition/we have just covered this”.  (They haven’t; you checked).   I can rest assured my idea will be used. Only it won’t be written up by me. Ideas – I was told by an editor on one of the UK’s broadsheets – are the currency of  newspapers and magazines. Which means I’ve lost quite alot of money.

You read the last message telling yourself third time lucky. Except that it isn’t: ”your idea on insomnia is most interesting and would make a great feature for our magazine” encouraging so far “however we feel that owing to where you live, you are not in a position to write this up for us”. Hellooooo! don’t you think people in Africa suffer from sleeplessness too? What the editor means – of course – is that because I live where I do, I must be badly educated and English a second language.  Whether I live with insomnia has nothing at all to do with it.

Dispirited you drink more coffee and then – because if you call yourself a writer you need to do something to justify lofty title (largely because you’d quite like people to talk to you when you go to parties – especially if you live in an Outpost – which they might not do if you say you are Just A Mum. The general public lives by mistaken belief that those in paid employment have more interesting things to say than those of us who are employed and unpaid at home despite the fact we live life on the front line and have the peace keeping skills of a United Nations negotiator) so you trawl internet for:

freelance markets for writers

you get 1,890,000 hits. Which is encouraging. Until you remember you’ve tried most of them before. (really you have: it’s called Working when you’re a housewife pretending to be a writer).

Then you attempt to unearth Paid Work for Writers.

more than 2,000,000 hits – the top one is looking for writers in Miami. which instinct tells you will be a bit like trying to write up the insomnia story.

By noon this particular writer has written nothing except 107 emails to assorted editors/freelance markets/friends; a shopping list and her signature 26 times on sheet of scrap paper in the hope of one day being asked to sign inside jacket of her book even though she doens’t need the practice: in recent years she’s had to sign so many cheques for school fees she could do it with her eyes closed.

The afternoon hours stretch and relax to nothingness as you gaze out of the window seeking inspiration (not about what to write but whom you haven’t thought of yet to write to). And then you remember that a Real Writer once wrote ”having published my first book, I found I was able to make a substantial living as a freelancer”.

Needless to say, you’ve already written a book. Three actually. You hoik them out of computer archives and dust them off – metaphorically, of course – and wonder who you could resubmit them to, and whether the passage of time since you last submitted is long enough that they might have forgotten what they said. My choices are quite limited – 43 publishers and in most cases the commissioning editors are still alive and well with intellects insufficently eroded by dementia yet to remeber that they said, ”thanks for sending your work in but I regret it doesn’t demonstrate sufficient commercial appeal for our lists’.

It’s only at this point that you notice the time and scramble to your feet to throw supper together. Your husband pours you a drink and asks what you’ve been up to all day.  You sigh dramatically, ”working”, you say, whilst you hastily put a pasta dish together thinking guiltiy that it’s the most useful thing you’ve done since remembering to put clean knickers on at 6 this morning.

Anything? husband asks hopefully – he means any work, proper paying work that comes with pound signs and number on it – nah, nothing, you admit, stirring bolognese furiously.

Never mind. Think of JK Rowling: she worked for years before she made any money.


Why do non-writers always drag JK up for those who pretend to write? Do they really think reference to her fortune makes our lack of success easier to bear? It’s either her or Mary Wesley.

And I don’t want to wait until I’m 70 to make any money out of what I pretend to do, for God’s sake: I need nice shoes now.

Aspiring to be DG. Again.

August 8, 2007

I ought to be in the kitchen in a lather of productivity. I’ve got seven of my husband’s assorted bosses/colleagues/cronies for lunch.

But I’m not. I have sat here for the past two hours doing what makes me feel comfortable and happy, escaping into a world of words. My own. Others. It doesn’t matter. So long as it’s not Nigel’s/Nigella’s/Delia’s which will send me into paroxysm of anxiety about what I ought cook for lunch today. And why I oughtn’t. (Mainly because although it looks lovely on the page, it probably won’t on the plate. Largely because I had a hand in it.)

We are having Lasagne because even I have trouble getting that wrong. We can’t get mince meat here but we can get thigh of cow or back muscle or something that’s astonishingly tough but masquerades as beef all the same. I borrowed a mincer and my son’s bowling arm – becauase it’s  great deal stronger than mine – and we minced meat in manner of real pioneers.

I have not considered what to do for pudding. Amelia has suggested a marble cake (too seventies) and Hat cheese muffins (too, well too cheesy mainly). Chocolate mousse would be nice. If I could get cream. Pavlova is beyond me so perhaps fortunate I can’t get cream; last time I made it in absence of baking parchment I substituted the Sunday Times Review pages which stuck to the bottom so everybody could read Jeremy Clarkson aned India Knight when conversation got a little stilted.

When I first got married I offered, because I thought that’s what expat wives did, to make a pudding for my hostesss one Sunday lunch. I made what looked lovely, an orange cakey affair, and what was, in reality, leaden and disgusting. I begged husband to exhibit loyalty by eating at least a slice since everybody else was giving orange frisbee wide berth. By the time he was on 7th slice (and seventeeth beer to wash it down) I grew suspicious. Under closer inspection I noted he was bringing spoon to mouth and then deftly tossing over shoulder. I was red faced not only because my offering was so disgusting not even pissed Husband could force it down, but because now evidence of my culinary failings lay in pile behind him.

Perhaps we’ll ditch a pudding today.

These are tobacco farmers after all, they can have communal fag instead.