Archive for the ‘pets’ Category

A Last Walk

May 28, 2007

A last walk

Was it my imagination of were the mountains more beautiful? The evening light more syrupy? The birds more vociferous? I don’t think so. It’s months and months since Kilimanjaro was as clear; it had tossed aside its habitual cloak of cloud so that it was adorned with only wisps, like tulle. It wore a crown of snow, heavier, far heavier than in recent weeks and its every valley, every nuance of its shape, drawn out by shade and sun. Even Mawenzi, the little peak, had bravely stepped forward where it normally hides in its big brother’s shadow. Meru, not to be outdone, stood tall against a blue, blue sky (one that for most of the day had been heavy with mist and rain). About its circumference was a perfectly level frill of cloud, like a tutu. Even the distant Masai Steppe, to the south, was clear. The sun, spilt low through bottom branches and ignited the tops of the star grass so that it looked like so many blushing heads.

I don’t remember such a heartbreakingly beautiful evening. I like to think the mountains were out to say goodbye. And the birds – the pigeons called, the Hadada ibis sounded uncharacteristically mournful and even the guinea fowl’s giggle was subdued. Will they miss me? No. Of course not. But they may miss teasing the dogs.

And will I miss this? Yes. I can already feel the ache of sadness at goodbye.

But another part of Africa will be home now, different vistas will imprint upon my mind so that memories move over as new affections take hold.  The dogs will appreciate new smells. I will walk them to the evensong of different birds.

I will be still be beneath the same enormous African sky. The evening light will be unchanged.

And my beer will always be as cold.



My Upwardly Mobile Geese

May 24, 2007

The geese are gone. And I miss them already; the garden is too quiet without their scolding the Hadada ibis and chiding the dogs, and the lawn too large without interruption afforded by their comical pit-pat waddle. I packed them into a laundry basket yesterday morning and drove them to my friend. She lives on a hill which is inhabited by a crowd rumoured to be too posh to mingle with other common or garden Arusha residents. But I suspect geography has a bigger part to play in their isolation than any conscious social act on their part. 

But her own two geese rather endorse what the rumour mongers suggest. They regard my three, which look a bit grubby and disheveled when I unload them from laundry baskets, with undiluted disdain. Then they toss their snow white heads and stalk off. 

A while later, and as I’m leaving my friend’s after a cup of coffee, I notice my geese wandering off in vague direction of home, several miles away, looking lost and a bit deflated.  I stop the car, leap out and herd them back in general direction of friend’s stables where her own geese live. And then I call her to explain.  She is as concerned as I that my geese are made to feel at home. She has since assured me they are holed up in clean, dry chicken house with buckets of feed. ‘If I give them enough to eat’, she says, ‘they’ll begin to feel at home and stay put’. So the gossips are wrong: it is geography and not snobbery that separates this community from everybody else – my friend’s geese just don’t see enough of others to know how to behave, for their owner certainly does, as demonstrated by her graceful and warm hospitality.

The Importance of Company … any company

May 22, 2007

The cats have arrived safely in Outpost. I locked them in a room together the night before they flew. That way, by dawn, when I had to load them, they’d said all they needed to loudly say to one another: had hurled so much abuse, thrown so many punches that they were spent and complained only softly and briefly, peering in worried confusion out of the bars of the cage in which they were incarcerated to travel. Husband assures me they are now locked up in new house, with bowls of food, saucers of milk and buttered paws (cleaning themselves prompt necessary surge of happy hormones so that they begin to settle. And stop them skidding gracelessly across cement floors). 

Relating cat dispatching experience to fellow mother in school car park and describing what I planned to do with geese (since you ask: a friend will baby sit them until I am sufficiently well organized with lawn and pond of which there is neither yet, just dust and an expectant hole) and dogs (drive to Outpost with me when I go in a week), she told me I sounded Sad. I told her she needed to understand more about Outpost before she dismissed me as Sad; in Outpost you’d be wise to welcome all the company you can get whether it’s a cat rubbing up against your foot as your sit writing, a goose bossing a Hadada ibis outside or a Labrador pleading to be taken for a walk.  With the cats gone I was free to load the last lorry. Not a removals van or a sealed truck. No, a shaky sided, open-to-the-elements, affair which was packed in haphazard fashion with – amongst other things – half a dozen trees which I have carefully uprooted, including mango trees (if there was ever a case of coals to Newcastle, this was it: where I am going is Mango Tree capital of the world).  

Are you sure my trees are going to be OK? I asked the driver, Ali, anxiously. Of course, he said, wearing what I suppose he must have imagined was an expression of kindly reassurance but was in fact an impatient smirk that said, ‘listen lady, I generally have far more important things to transport than half an orchard and several pots of lemon grass, so wind your silly white neck in’. 

His cargo also included my desk, a double bed in bits and the fireplace from the verandah, wrought of aluminum and protruding from the rear end of his truck like a short, fat tail.   The house is now even more cavernously bare than ever.  But my Sally Worm indicates I only have to endure 6 more sleeps here.

Fur Flying

May 17, 2007


I have to move my cats to Outpost.

Given that this would involve a 15 hour drive, I have managed to secure them space on a charter flight on Monday.

I need, now, to source a cat box from which they cannot escape; as was pointed out to me, nobody wants a cat going nuts at 15,000 ft up. I can quite see why.

Cat box isn’t a problem – a friend has offered to loan me hers. The problem is that my cats – Orlanda (Orlando until vet came to pick pockets to discover there were none, so a cat who has undergone sex change but not for the usual reasons) and Moshi – hate each others’ guts. One cannot pass the other without hurling abuse (spitting, hissing, doing that horrible deep throated growl that cats do so well) or giving a quick jab with an unsheathed claw. Full scale brawls at 2am are not uncommon.

I face a dilemma. Do I tell the pilot who has kindly agreed to give my cats a ride that they hate each other and are liable to fight throughout the two hour flight? Or do I pretend that the stress of travel has brought out the worst in them both?

I would like to sit cats down and explain to them that they are very lucky to be flying, that they would not appreciate a 15 hour drive on appalling roads, sharing a box any more than I’d enjoy listening to their bickering for 15 hours whilst constrained in same vehicle, and so it’d be prudent to behave themselves.

But that, of course, would be a waste of time.

As Ben has observed, by the time they arrive in Outpost, having been obliged to share same small space, they will look like naked mole rats, each having ripped the fur from the other.

So long as they do it quietly, I really couldn’t care less.

Lost Dog: Reward Offered

May 5, 2007

I had a horrible moment this evening.

Mum and I took the dogs, Kanga and her dippy daughter, Scally, for a walk as I do most evenings. Half way through our walk, Kanga disappeared. She does this often, charging off on the scent of a feral cat or in the hope of pushing a flock of guinea fowl into the air. And I yell, in exasperation, for about ten minutes and she always reappears looking delighted with herself, and panting hard.

But this evening, though Scally came back, Kanga did not. I called and called and called. To no avail. We walked home hoping to find her there but she wasn’t. I climbed into the car with Ben and we trawled the farm, calling her name and stopping to listen in the hope of hearing an answer.

We heard nothing but the quiet whisper of night fall and the odd agitated shriek of a bird.

We returned home, still no sign of Kanga. I was getting frantic; she has been mine since she was a pup, a constant companion for seven years in that adoring, trusting way that only Labradors can be (so that even when the whole world seems against you, they’re not). Ben offered to ride the farm on his bike and so off we both went again, me in the car, he on his bike, in the dark, calling, stopping, listening.

By this time we had attracted the attention of several of the farm’s night watchmen, ‘askaris’. Had they seen Kanga, I asked (most of them know her after watching us walk the farm every evening for six years). Nope, none had.

In the midst of our search, Anthony called from the Outpost and I promptly burst into tears, ‘I’ve lost Kanga’, I bawled. And with Ben pedaling barefoot around the farm in the dark without a light, I was at risk of losing him too. Anthony suggested I offer the askaris a reward (and reminded me that – at 15 – Ben really was old enough to find his way home).

I put out word of a reward, twice what Anthony recommended. The askaris responded with alacrity; they haven’t been paid for months. I don’t know why they still report for work, but this evening I was thankful they do.

We’ll search all night, they told me. Where did you last see her?

I showed them. And calling her name I finally, finally, after two hours of looking, heard a desperate yelp.

The askaris heard it too. We followed the sound – I was fearful Kanga had been caught in a snare, not uncommon here, and been injured. As it turned out, she’d fallen into a deep, sheer sided hole – made by an ant bear perhaps – and was unable to get out.

The askaris clambered in to haul her up and came out carrying her aloft like a trophy.

I don’t know who was more pleased to see who? Kanga me, or I Kanga?

The askaris deposited her on the back seat of my car and piled in after her; we drove home and I paid them their reward whilst Kanga raced off to find her supper. And then collapsed in an exhausted heap at my feet and I poured myself a large glass of wine.

Box Packing and Belly Piercing

May 1, 2007

We have spent almost all day packing. The children have been gracious and tolerant and willing. I hope that means they are as excited about the move as I am. Deciding what to pack now and what to keep whilst we camp (there will be a hiatus between container leaving and our own departure of some three weeks) has been taxing. But we have managed: I have persuaded Hat she does not need 34 teddies and that no they will not ‘die’ in transit in the container; I have urged Ben to consider reducing the number of tomes beside his bed (and avail of the school library instead) and I have promised Amelia that her clothes – those in the container – will be available to her the moment we reach Outpost so she can enjoy a change of wardrobe. ‘Oh good’, she said visibly relieved, ‘I thought I’d be wearing the same stuff for six months’. Heaven Forbid. Though with still sorry state of washing machine we all rather smell as if we have anyway.

The dogs are in a twitch at the sight of so many boxes and bags being filled. They sulked in the garden all day but perked up when I took them for a walk on an increasingly unkempt farm; in the eight days since I last walked it the weeds have grown ever taller and the place even more desperate looking. Not that the dogs minded, they dashed about joyfully chasing the guinea fowl, rats and feral cats that lurk in an ever-increasing tangle of vegetation.

My mum is arriving tomorrow; it is a year since I saw her and a year and a half since she last saw the children. She will notice changes everywhere including that the children have grown: doubtless she will have to speak up to Ben and Amelia now. She will also notice that I look older. Considerably.

I recently wrote a story about the benefits of stress – one being that it is supposed to rejuvenate a person’s appearance. The year I’ve had I ought to look 17. Alas, I look more than old enough to be the mother of a not-yet 17 year old son. I could be his grandmother after a sleepless night.

Between packing boxes and labelling trunks Amelia, for want of some distraction, stapled her ear. She said it was a mistake. Hmm. Convenient, then, that it’s at precisely the point where a 13 year old may want a second ear piercing and that she had a spare stud to insert, ‘well no point in wasting the hole’ she said cheerfully. I am assuming she would not feel compelled to staple either her belly button or her tongue.

To bed now. The removal company are in tomorrow. I asked if could send some grass – the kind you mow –to begin a lawn in Outpost, you understand. They have not deigned to reply, they have dismissed me as mad before we have even begun.

No, no lion living in the garden …

April 17, 2007

When I was a boarder at school in England, girls frequently used to enquire whether we had lion in the garden back home in Africa.

Ummm. No. I didn’t then. And I don’t now (not to say nobody in Africa has members of the Big Five traipsing through the geraniums and oleander, plenty do, just not us).

But I do have a collection of animals that wander about the garden. The dogs, the geese, the Hadada ibis, next door’s chickens (three of them, led by a spectacularly ugly Rooster which somebody once called Uncle Nick and which bloody mindedly comes dashing across at 6am on a Saturday to crow gleefully under my bedroom window; he clearly has a lie in weekdays because I’m never aware of his racket until after eight Monday to Friday). The cats prowl: we have two, Moshi is grey and was christened thus because the word means smoke in Kiswahili. She is as bad tempered as she is beautiful. Orlanda used to be Orlando (as in The Marmalade Cat? Anybody else read that?) until it was discovered, when the vet came to pick her pockets, that she had none to pick because she was a she and not a he. Orlanda and Moshi hate it each others guts.

Moshi stalks birds and rats in the garden. When we got tired of her killing kingfishers we bought her a collar with a bell, the idea being that the tinkle, as she moved through the grass, would give the birds some warning. Alas, Moshi is too canny and learned how to remove the collar. Every time she discarded it, on an acacia, upstairs, under a bed, it was found, fished out and refastened. But she’s hidden it too well this time and I can’t locate it anywhere.

I am fervently hoping this has nothing to do with today’s non appearance of the tiny sunbird that visits every morning, he sits on the window above the desk where I work and admires his reflection, tapping it proudly with his beak.

I hope Moshi hasn’t eaten him; I am hoping the rat I saw her drag back into the house sufficed.

Mind where you walk

March 31, 2007

Glorious walk tramping across farm which was once scored with productive ranks of baby carrots, baby corn and baby leeks, all growing under halos of water cast by overhead sprinklers and destined for the shelves of Tesco (has anybody questioned British preference for juvenile vegetables, btw?). Not like that anymore: it’s 1,500 acres of debt-ridden, abandoned, tangle of weeds now.

Omo Bright dogs no longer just Bright; thanks to the thick undergrowth we – they, Anthony and I – were forced to battle our way through – they are now cheerfully bedecked with burrs, like a pair of fat blondes who have over-accessorized. Anthony walks barefoot. I – shod – high step like a dressage pony fearful that I may step on a snake. I probably look quite silly.

Snakes are not uncommon here and walking through weeds as high as an elephant’s eye is – frankly – to foolishly tempt fate. I walk behind Anthony (five paces – in manner of good African wife, but not out of respect, rather as a result of theory that he will either chase reptiles from our path or stand on them before I do). I have met cobra often on my walks and I always afford them courteous space. Some Africans suggest that to witness a snake cross your path is an omen of good luck. Some suggest it’s exactly the opposite. I think it’s largely a question of where your feet fall.

Birds, Baths and Failure

March 31, 2007

Just caught the tiniest kingfisher trapped in my office (grandly named lean-to in which I wrote the book that brought me to literary recognition, i.e. rejection letters from 50 editors on both sides of the Pond). It had flown in through wide open door (courtesy of Anthony who is hoping that if I can see the mess therein, I will do something about it: I won’t; I’ll just shut the door) and kept bashing its pretty little head on the closed windows every time it tried to escape. I scooped it up in the palm of my hand, its sharp orange beak all that could be seen then, safe in a loosely closed fist so that it wouldn’t struggle and break a wing, its fast-beating breast palpable against my fingers, and let it go outside. It only sat for a micro-second upon my outstretched hand before taking flight and soaring to the top of an acacia. I felt like Sir David Attenborough in my proximity to nature and my valiant conservation effort.

A quiet Saturday, which has given me the opportunity to reflect on what a thoroughly hopeless ‘memsahib’ I am. The last few days have seen visits to friends who run beautiful homes in proverbial clockwork fashion. They call for tea and uniformed staff deliver it upon trays dressed with silver and delicate linen. One had to call twice before tea appeared, she looked sternly at her watch when the tray arrived and scolded the cook for taking too long a lunch break, ‘I told him to have tea here for four’, she explained (it was 4.20) noticing how embarrassed I looked (not because tea was late – it always is in my house, if it happens at all – but because witnessing anybody’s dressing down is discomfiting). The luxury of affordable home help here is tempered by the politically incorrect elements of having ‘servants’. That I should even be concerned to analyze this is suggestion that I’m too liberal to be a proper ‘memsahib’. My contemporaries, with their uniformed ranks of staff and homes that run to timetables, regard me as something of a failure and a disappointment; after all, my colonial heritage suggests I ought to know how to do this better. But I never learned, happily, for neither my grandmother nor my mother were especially keen to lock up the sugar and wear bunches of keys at their waist like county jailers.

The dogs have had a bath. Regularly – because we walk in long grass in Africa – we must pick ticks from their coats which we toss into the wood-burning stove that heats water for our own baths (the dogs enjoy no such luxury – they’re washed in cold from the garden tap) and submerge them in noxious smelling ‘dip’. Otherwise they will get tickbite fever and die. Like Marmite did. Marmite was Hattie’s dog, and is buried at the bottom of the garden. Today – too late, the dogs were already damp – I discovered we’d run out of ‘dip’ (further evidence of my poor house-keeping skills) and so the dogs were washed in the local laundry detergent, Omo, which, according to the tub, ‘washes brighter’.

I mightn’t manage my home with regiments of unformed staff but I shall unquestionably have the brightest dogs in the district.

So there.