Archive for the ‘life’ Category

How to communicate with a teenager

March 14, 2008

My son, who will be seventeen this year and who is prone to that syndrome peculiar to many teens and certainly most boys, monosyllabicism, has forwarded me an enlightening email. His apparently ambivalent attitude towards conversation (unless he needs something, obviously) and the fact he’s at boarding school for most of the year means I get quite excited when I receive any communiqué  from him: a text asking that I call, a banal Forward in my Inbox.

Ordinarily I bin most Forwards. I tell myself they are time-wasting and since I’m able to time waste perfectly adequately on my own, I don’t need any assistance from outside. That said, I have read 3 of same this morning.

Anyway. son and heir sent (in response, no doubt, to demands from his father, ‘when are going to bloody well write?’) one of those questionnaires that asks things like what time you got up (5.55 in his case), what you usually eat for breakfast (a lot) and what you listen to (Disney classics and a bit of Beethoven, spelt bathoven in case you were about to be seriously impressed by my musical prodigy who – by the way – wouldn’t know who Beethoven/bathoven was if he came and bit him on the bum). Aside from discovering nothing about my son’s taste in music and something about his eating habits (he hates burgers I read), I also learned he wants to visit India; if he was a crayon he’d be dark green and that his favourite restaurant is local Tabora Hotel (‘because it’s such a surprise when your food arrives’ which it is).

His sense of humour was evident, what pets do you have revealed ‘2 cats, 2 dogs, a tree (?!) … oh. And two sisters’ and hair colour? Bald, apparently. It’s dark brown. As were his vulnerabilities: when did he last shed tears: he last cried on receiving results to recent French test, I discover. I doubt he actually cried but it does show he cares. I think. I hope?

So. If, like me, you become frustrated at your teen’s reluctance to provide details about what’s going on in their lives, wing them an asinine email: you have no idea what gems you might unearth.


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.   

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.



The Need for Reinvention

March 1, 2008

Apart from the missionaries in their socks, sandals and tie-dye dresses and the volunteers, who wear earnest expressions, combats and Tivas, there are few women in the Outpost. Both those spreading the word and good works are very nice, but we share little in common – other than our geography.

Which means that my tiny social life is distilled further – to one shared, mostly, with the men husband works with. To begin with they regarded me nervously. The men. Perhaps they felt obliged to behave differently when a woman was unceremoniously dumped in their midst. But with time they have grown used to me. And I to them, and we have settled into a comfortable sort of friendship where nobody has to make much effort. They clearly no longer make special concession to the female amongst them, thankfully, for that would put everybody on edge. Now they carry right on and do the blokey stuff they did before I got here: they talk tobacco, they swear (and then look mildly apologetic – most of these boys are sweetly old fashioned), sometimes, when the evening has become especially long and beer sodden, they really relax and might fart. They regale one another with funny stories which make me laugh.  

Occasionally though, just occasionally (this being an outpost and all that jazz) one of them might bring a woman into the equation: invite her up from the capital or, even, more exotically, in from abroad. Such visitors always cause tremendous excitement and the bachelors are generous enough, because they understand the desperate need for new faces, to share their womenfolk briefly – over dinner or drinks or an afternoon barbeque.  

I, in particular, am especially greedy for female company: I miss that of my own gender acutely (I’m not a blokey girl by choice). Hat takes keen interest too but when I tell her that Mike has two ladies in for the weekend, she asks in horror, ‘TWO?!’.  

Yes I say impatiently: Two.  

But don’t they mind?  

Who? Doesn’t who mind?  

The ladies? Having to share Mike? 

Sometimes I think Hat’s regular – and often singular – exposure to adults might be confusing. 

They’re not his girlfriends, I reassure her. (Then, under my breath, ‘’though he is working on at least one’’: spend enough time in the company of just men and you will begin to think like them). 

So. In a state of agitation we ready ourselves for an evening out with The Girls. Hat and I both take care over our appearance. Ordinarily, for the lads, I’d bung on yesterday’s jeans and might drag a comb through my hair. If I can find one. Tonight I select an outfit carefully, pile washed hair on top of my head and dig out my lippy.  Any man who thinks his woman is dressing up for him is delusional. 

And off we go. To the one watering hole in town. To meet our illustrious weekend visitors. Introductions are made and we women carefully size one another up. 

Me because I need to ascertain how serious a relationship with Tom/Dick/Harry might become: this woman could become a neighbour which may, depending on what she’s like, be a very good, or a really bad, thing. 

And she because she can’t quite believe another woman would choose to live here. 

I ask most of the questions. Not because I sometimes call myself a journalist, but because the dearth of company over the past 2, 3, 4, weeks means a lot of conversation has accumulated and I need to offload at the first opportunity. 

She, when she has finished telling me about her glossy career, her fabulous social life (amazing and eclectic circle of really interesting people in Dar, you know?) and herself, might ask me whether I live here. 

No, I just find it so appealing I hang out here every weekend. Of course I live here you daft Bat. You think I’d bar-fly in this joint if I could be anywhere else? 

’Yes’’, demurely, ‘’I live here’’. 

And what I do. 

And this is where it could get interesting. Because it is at this point that I, feeling a bit pissed off (and possibly even a little pissed ) am overcome by the most horrifying compulsion to lie. 

She presumes that I must be dull or stupid or lazy because I have not carved out a life for myself somewhere racier. (I cannot be bothered to deliver my Standing By My Man speech). And so the impulse to reinvent myself just to grab her attention, to remind her that you mustn’t ever, ever judge books by covers (no matter how dusty or old or faded) is overwhelming. 

Shall I, I ponder, tell her that I am here to save Africa on behalf of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (to whose daughter I am Godmother btw)? Or should I regale her with a tale about being in a witness protection program (“I am here for my own safety” I’d say, in a conspiratorial whisper). Could I kid her into believing I’m employed to scout for a Tanzanian baby for Mia Farrow or Madonna’s growing and cosmopolitan brood?  Shall I pretend I’m an ex Page 3 girl (whose bust has undergone significant reduction, clearly) who has made her millions and is now perfectly content to lead a life of quiet domesticity? Could I persuade her that a late Great Uncle bequeathed me squillions providing I experienced a degree of hardship first (‘and once I’ve proved myself’, I’d elaborate, ‘I’m going to take up residence at my other home: in Beverely Hills/Chelsea/Monaco”).  Or could I delude her into believing my own late father was the love child of the Queen Mother (from an illicit relationship with a Scottish stable hand) and in order to keep the story out of the Pap’s hands (and camera lenses) I am obliged to live in splendid isolation? With a handsome allowance, naturally. 

Doubtless I could dupe her into believing anything. It’s already unbelievable enough that – on the face of it at least – a sane person would actually choose to live here.  And here is where I am. Talking to a woman I’d really looked forward to meeting but who isn’t remotely interested because she dismissed me the moment she clapped eyes on me as No Life Nobby No Mates. 

I write, I say. And I teach Hat. 

Oh. She says. 


Wish I’d lied.  

Next time …  

The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

February 8, 2008

There was once a Town Mouse and a Country Mouse.

The Country Mouse rarely went out, for there was nowhere to go and precious few people to meet. She scuttled about her tiny little house living her hermetic existence and eating leafy green salads from her own pocket handkerchief garden for lunch. She read. She wrote. She played with her offspring: most had scrambled out of her homely little nest and only returned sporadically to raid the fridge, get their laundry done and ask for increased allowances. But there was one left, the youngest, a constant source of amusement and companionship for our sometimes lonely Country Mouse, who never wore shoes but padded about in her barefeet (nail polish peeling from toes) and the same pair of scruffy shorts day after day. Her hair – too long now – was always screwed into an untidy knot at the back of her head.

The Town Mouse by comparison barely sat still. There were lunches (in town, naturally) to be had (paninis sweating cheese and glasses of red wine). Hair appointments to attend, pedicures to enjoy (Town Mouse always has perfectly painted red toenails), shops to trawl (even when she wasn’t buying). She was exhaustingly social, darting hither and thither and catching up with friends over too much coffee. There were school runs to do and mothers to either avoid or gossip with in the car park, there was a daughter to collect each afternoon, excited chatter to listen to, sleepovers to arrange. There were movies to see (Enchanted), dinner parties to attend. She always wore shoes and remembered to change her clothes and brush her newly done tresses every day.

The Country Mouse – despite feeling bereft of company from time to time – was never short of peace and quiet and time to find the right words. The Town Mouse barely had a moment to spare in her hectic schedule. She didn’t get enough sleep and her waistband – on account of the indulgence that attends regular meals out – was growing disconcertingly tight.

The Country Mouse visited the Town Mouse and despite the initial novelty of restaurants and cinemas and hair salons, it wasn’t long before she began to feel a little broke, a bit fatter, more tired than she was used to. It wasn’t long before she began to yearn for a little bit of space. A slower pace.

Funny that.

She hadn’t expected that.






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 …

Behavioural habits of Men and Mosquitoes

January 19, 2008

Hat is doing a school project on mosquito borne diseases. I have learned, in the course of our combined research, that:

Female mosquitoes have itchy feet and have been shown to fly as far as 25 miles from where they hatched to where they were slapped by irritated dinner victim. How do they know that? was she carrying a map with her route carefully marked? a or do female mosquitoes carry ID indicating place of birth?

Male mosquitoes never bite – instead, on account of sweet tooth, they feed on nectar, full of sugar and vitamin C no doubt, which they probably cram into man-bags to sustain man-fat and keep man-flu at bay.

A female mosquito’s life span is anything up to 100 days; the male’s is 10 to 20 days. Which just goes to show a sweet tooth is bad for your health whereas one high in iron is presumably quite good?

Depending on temperature, mosquitoes can develop from egg to adult in under a week. This will impress pushy parents everywhere who would like to oust little ones from nest into lucrative careers faster than their peers can.

The mosquito’s visual picture, produced by various parts of its body, is an infrared view generated by its prey’s body temperature. It’s why it helps to sleep with a hot man (hot as in warm to the touch hot as opposed to George Clooney Hot). My own hot man(who gets bitten far more frequently than cooler blooded I) says this is ”bollocks:” whether he meant ”bollocks” to hot Clooney or “bollocks” to hot, as in warmer to the touch hot, I didn’t bother to enquire.

And talking of men, my own has several peculiar behaviour traits of his own:

He hides our copies of The Week (quite possibly the best magazine in the entire world) until he has read them. I only discovered this recently when I noticed one, still plastic wrapped, poking out of his bedside drawer. I pinched it to read first. Which was childishly satisfying for me and childishly irksome for him.

He never puts the loo seat back down: cliched but true

He is very, very tidy. I am very, very untidy. He likes to reorganise my desk so that I can find my pencil, rubber, keyboard. I prefer the challenge of the hunt. His wardrobe a testimony to a man who never deliberates about what to wear every morning, mine bears proof of the fact that even in splendid isolation I cannot decide. What is discarded is hastily stuffed back into a drawer in favour of something else dragged just as hastily out.

He hates to change plans. As a result I have learned not to commit until I am absolutely certain. Once I’ve said ”yes” to something, he would only grant an exception if I was hit by a bus, eaten by a lion or bitten by a well travelled mosquito that has grown old on a diet high in haemoglobin and has a GPS around her neck.


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?


August 8, 2007

Tonight I feel blue.

Tomorrow I must pack up my big kids ready for boarding school. I will no longer be able to escape the reality that they’re going away: I will face piles of name-taped clothes.

And before dawn on Friday we will leave for the long trek east. On Sunday I will hand them over and early next week I’ll drive home again, without them, and whilst their dad’s out at work all day, Hat and I will rattle around this house on our own. I will miss Amelia’s blaring music and the fact the kitchen looks like a bomb’s hit it every time she bakes; I will miss her chocolate chip cookies for nobody makes them as well. I will miss Ben eternally watching sport on the telly. I will miss him everytime I need help fixing something or lifting something for he won’t be there. I will miss cooking for the 5,000 every mealtime and wondering why there still aren’t leftovers. Though now there will be – I’ll still cook for the 5,000 for old habits die hard – and the leftovers will make me sad.  I will miss their company; their nearness so that I can touch them whenever I want to. I will not be able to bear to go into their rooms at night for their essence will be there but they won’t. Hat and I will be sad together and then we will begin school ourselves for there will be nothing for it but to fill our days with fractions and grammer.  And we will make a Sally Worm with 21 segments so that we might count off the days until we see them.

The very thought gives me a pain in my tummy which hurts so much I want to cry.


August 7, 2007

That’s not Henrietta, mum.

It is.

It’s not.

 How do you know?

Henrietta had a blue band around her foot, this chicken doesn’t.

Yes, but I took the band off because I was afraid it’d begin to dig in and make her sore.

A bit later.

That’s not Henrietta, Mum.

It is.

It’s NOT. Henrietta was all quiet and had her eyes half closed yesterday, this chicken is running around and making a noise.

Yes, well, Henrietta’s feeling better today, that’s all.

Later. In tears.

That chicken is not mine, Mum. My Henrietta had black feathers under her white ones.

What could I say to that? that I’d taken her Henrietta to the Chicken Beauty Salon and had her roots done before breakfast.

No, Hat, I’m really, really sorry. That’s not Henrietta; I lied.

And then I told the truth. And through her tears my little Hat had the courage and the grace to say, ”thanks Mum”.

Gawd this job’s hard sometimes.