Archive for the ‘insomnia’ Category

House Hunting

March 6, 2008

There is a chance we will have to move house.


And so we are house hunting. In most parts of the world this would mean an exercise in box ticking:

Proximity to work? Access to schools? 3 bedrooms? Or four? Number of bathrooms? Parking facility? Large garden? Or just a patio?

There is rather less choice here and so, in order not to miss any unlikely gems, we are forced to view every property that every obliging Outpost resident comes up with. (And when word is out that some fool who’ll pay a rent and renovate a place is looking, dozens do).

The first that we visit, excitedly, because it means an outing for Hat and I at any rate,  belongs to Hanif who is a very fat Swahili of Arab descent. He has brought a mate along with him, whom I have met many times and who, for reasons I have not yet fathomed, is called Parish. Parish is proprietor of a petrol station.  He chews betelnut and is generally font of all local knowledge.

I regard the house, when we arrive, tailing Fat Hanif and smaller Parish, is some dismay. It is huge, granted, plenty of space for all my assorted children, animals and books. But the garden is tiny. Indeed it is almost non-existent. The house fills the available walled space. It is also, rather bizarrely, unfinished: the walls are unpainted, the windows devoid of glass, the doorways of doors and the first floor of a staircase to get up there.  There is little in the way of plumbing (except for an outside water tank which – considering the healthy crop of sugar cane growing alongside it – has a serious leak) and no electricity. Husband politely enters the doorless doorway for a guided tour of the ground floor (we can only admire the first from below). Hat and I wait outside on the pretence of admiring the ‘garden’ whilst I try to stifle my giggles and Hat her disappointment. Hanif, judging by appearances, eats too well to be able to afford to finish the grand residence he optimistically began.

We promise to be in touch but not before husband enquires as to how peaceful the neighbourhood is. I could have told him: the house is a spit from the biggest hotel in town which runs a disco with live band every night.

‘Oh it is lovely and peaceful here’, promises Parish (who is clearly in line for some commission).

‘Except for the hotel …’ adds Hanif looking at Parish doubtfully.

Oh but that’s very far, says Parish, chewing and waving our concern dismissively away.

It’s not: I can see it just around the bend.

We move onto the second house. Husband has high hopes of this one because he is an eternal optimist. Hat and I, on other hand, have been quietly laying bets as to how ghastly it’ll be on a scale of 1 to 10 (one being ghastly beyond any redecorating redemption). Hat has bet a 2.  Her wager an informed one; she’s seen enough of the Outpost to know.

We meet the owner and follow him to the house. First impressions are promising: the area is quiet and secluded and shaded by huge old trees.

This looks better, says Husband.

It’s not. Though there are windows and doors and electricity and plumbing, it is all – along with 3 bedroom and 2 bathrooms – squeezed into the tiniest space. The flat I shared in London was a veritable broom cupboard. This was smaller. That was when I merely needed a place to lay my head and change my clothes. This needs to accommodate assorted children, animals and books. Not to mention a husband of almost 6ft2. We politely viewed the property, husband doing three point turns to get into and out of rooms. The kitchen is a lean-to of corrugated iron sheets. Water, we are promised, is not a problem (funny that; it is in most parts of the Outpost). I can’t help but notice the ranks of plastic drums which are being used to store same.

The house is a bit on the small side, admits Husband trying to turn around in corridor, shall we have a look at the garden he suggests?. We do. It is vast. Acres of space. An acre, to be precise says the owner, of – at the moment – mostly maize and beans and sweet potatoes. I imagine a pool and chickens and enough grazing for my much missed geese. I imagine bowling nets for my son. I imagine a treehouse for the girls. I imagine space to play badminton. I image a vegetable garden and herbs in tubs.

What’s that, I ask, pointing towards a derelict building on the boundary of the land.

‘That’, says our guide cheerfully, ‘is the old Hindu crematorium. But is is no longer in use’ he adds hastily when he sees Hat’s face.

Thank God. Though his attempt at reassurance doesn’t stop my vivid imagination running further amok with ghosts, ghouls and insomnic children too afraid of next-door departed to sleep. Not least because somebody has graffiti’d the word Phantom in bold black letters on the walls.

We leave – promising to be in touch. If we can come up with a realistic plan as to how to extend the shoebox to fit (unlikely), and the necessary wherewithal to carry out any extensions we might have dreamt up (even more unlikely).

That evening we see the third and final property of the day. We are obliged to collect the owner and give him a lift to the house which he swears he owns. It is a charming little cottage, remnant of the days of Colonial administration, in a big garden. A watchman appears as we drive in. He does not look as if he has any clue who the owner is. Nor does the housegirl who stands on guard by the backdoor.

How many bedrooms does it have? I enquire.

Two …? No. Um …3, says the owner, thinking hard..

And bathrooms?

“One”, he says, more emphatically. “I think?”.

A toto appears and sweetly greets us all.

Is mama in, asks the ‘owner’?

Yes, says the child, venturing towards the door. Eagleeyed, watchdog house girl quickly hisses, ‘no, she’s not’.

I giggle.

Do your tenants know that you are planning to rent this house out to somebody else? asks husband suspiciously.

Oh yes, says the owner, ‘I have given them notice, they will leave at the end of this month and then you can move in’.

I’m not moving in anywhere until I’ve seen the inside, I say quickly.

The owner shrugs. He clearly doesn’t see the necessity of viewing the house inside and out. But he’s going to work to accommodate this quirk.

Assuming, of course, the property really belongs to him.

Given that he was due – but has failed – to call me today to fix a time to re-view, this seems unlikely.  You’ve got to hand it to him though: bloody good try.



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.

Life in a Washing Machine

August 26, 2007

Sometimes I think my life is like living inside a washing machine. From the languid tumble of a slow, soothing rinse, cushioned by layers of soft sheets, to the hectic speed of a hard, fast spin.

doing-school.jpgMy slow and languid days have been spent teaching Hat (we relocated to the garden when it got too hot to be inside, and she sat beneath the shade of a spreading mango tree to write a story).

bouganvillea-blooms.jpgLazy afternoons were spent observing with forced patience the sloth like growth of grass and the gentle unfurling of a bouvanvillea bloom,

or following lizards around the house marvelling at their hues – from dull greys and browns to brilliant scarlet and flamboyantly camp purple.

 chasing-lizards.jpg         of-brilliant-coloured-hues.jpg

Hat and I have embarked on an extracurricular art project: we are making a bead curtain, the selection of just the right coloured bead makes for astonishgly good therapy.  Therapy I wish I could offer the lizards which are being tormented mercilessly by cruel, beautiful Moshi who tosses them about with her paws and growls menacingly to try to stir them into more interesting action from their playing dead paralysis.


We have been alone, Hat and I, this week. But not lonely. She has me and I, thank God, have her. She keeps me busy so that I am distracted from the permanent dull ache at her siblings’ absence, from the lack of any adult company. Little girls need entertainment, feeding, stimulation. Mine needs school. And she needs, after her bath, to slather herself in mozquito repellent.

Which one do you want to use, I ask her, as she clambers into her pajamas, the spray or the gel?

The spray, she announces confidently, because it is more affectionate.

She means effective. And she makes me laugh.

The fast spin button was hit follwoing a fraudulent attempt to steal funds from our bank account. The speed exacerbated as I was obliged to hang on for a distant bank advisor, frustration mounting in direct proportion to my telephone bill.

And faster still when I realised three commissions were outstanding and all needed filing before the end of the week when I will on the road again and attention focussed on being briefly reunited with my children, not editing stories for newspapers. The midnight oil was burned. And when it ran too low for light, I set my alarm for four in the morning and worked with strong coffee at my side and Hat still fast asleep.

A brief lull today before the pace picks up at dawn tomorrow when Hat and I will pile back into the car and trek northwards for 500 miles towards evenings and playdates with friends, a pedicure, a dentist appointment, several capuccinos and – very best of all – a weekend with my big ones, to celebrate my son’s 16th birthday.

Where have all the years gone?

Down the drain?

No. Into the murkey reservoir of memories in my mind where some have frayed and faded with age and grown a little grey, but where others are still bright Ariel white for their clarity. As if just yesterday – like the day my boy was born, all 8lb7oz of him, at 7.50 in the morning, shrieking his cross little head off.

Geckos and school runs

April 19, 2007

Wake at 3 a.m.

Hate that.

Several fruitless attempts to fall asleep again and I finally give up.

Get coffee and read ancient clippings from Sunday Times that have been lying beside my bed gathering dust for weeks.

Before I wake the kids (which I have to do every school day in the dark at 6) I have a shower. Whilst shampooing hair a gecko plops out off the ceiling and into the shower with me.

I almost crap myself. Gecko does and then he (she? how can you tell?) clambers up the shower curtain. My shriek has successfuly woken Hat.

Between coaxing the other two out of bed and putting eggs onto boil and bread into toast, I download mails hoping for a big fat commission or an offer from a publisher.

Alas all I get are messages promoting the use of viagra (which have no use of since no husband at present), Rolex watches and – because I once bought theatre tickets online – suggestions that I ought to see Billy Elliot.

By the time I have finished filling up inbox with unwanted mail, I have hardboiled the eggs and burned the toast and the children only have 12 minutes to eat breakfast before they leave on 6.40 school run.

Twelve minutes in which they must also brush teeth, find last night’s homework, gather up lunch boxes, apply sunscreen (Hat – who not designed for Africa, with auburn curls and complexion like clotted cream), argue with me (Amelia: about what she is wearing/her proposed plans for weekend/fact it is our wont since she is 13 and I am her mum) and then fight amongst themselves about whose turn it is to sit in the front. For the 3 minutes it takes me to get them to their lift.

By the time I get home – at 6.55 – I am ready to go back to bed.

Sleepless on a sunday night

March 25, 2007

A weekend consumed by anxiety and meetings with lawyers; Anthony is to appear before the magistrate tomorrow morning at 8. He is charged with signing a company cheque which subsequently bounced. He signed the post-dated cheque in good faith on his Directors’ orders a year ago whilst still an employee. They stopped paying us three months later, when their funds dried up. It was only after that they presented the cheque Anthony had put his signature to. The lawyer gave us two options: that Anthony admit liability, ‘yes, that’s my signature on the cheque, I signed it in my capacity of manager believing it would be honoured’, or go for an adjournment and buy the company time to rustle up the necessary funds.

Why on earth would we opt to buy time for a company we no longer work for that has failed to pay its staff or acknowledge pleas for payment from creditors?

We are to be at the village police station at 7 to collect a police escort to accompany us to the courthouse in town. What’s the betting there will be nobody there and we will have to wait, trying to be graciously patient and then, once somebody appears, we will have to drive the 25 klms to town like maniacs, hoping we are not stopped for speeding en route in which case we’d risk another arrest, in order not to be late for our 8am appointment with Madam Magistrate?

Amelia left for France last night – a school trip. She was beside herself with excitement and packed, amongst other things, 15 long chiffon scarves as Madame Curley, her French teacher, had told her that women in France were chic, and aspiring to chic meant wearing, apparently, a lot of flowing scarves.

Why all the scarves I wanted to know

Because I need to be cheek


Yes, cheek, Madame says French women are cheek because they wear scarves

Oh, I say, you mean chic?

No, cheek, she repeats adamantly. Clearly she does not believe I am – chic, that is – for I don’t even know how to pronounce the word.

So. She has gone armed with suitcase full of brilliantly coloured scarves and plans to wear them ‘around my neck and my waist’. I hope she does look ‘cheek’, and doesn’t look like a washing line.

She didn’t when I kissed her goodbye at the airport last night; she looked radiant and happy. And beautiful, yes. And there were no signs of the tragic Railway Children expressions she bore as her father was borne away by the police on Friday. Thank God.

I am going to bed now. I won’t sleep. I am now an expert on insomnia. Which is a bit of a waste since on account of silly small-minded Oz editor, I’m not going to be able to air my quite considerable experience of sleeplessness to an Australian readership.