Archive for the ‘school run’ Category

Bottling Memories

January 31, 2008

We went for a walk yesterday evening, Hat and I; we drove to the plot of land adjacent to husband’s office, a few acres forested with enormous mango trees and overlooking distant kopjes sheathed in green where the dogs can race about, chasing vervet monkeys up trees from where they laugh and tease. Often we see mongoose here, peeping from their burrows in termite mounds. But they’re gone in a trice: the scent of the Labradors has sent them back down to the bowels of the earth from where we hear their indignant scolding: ‘why don’t you bugger off and leave us alone, and take those sodding great beasts with you’.

We have to drive across town before we can walk.

I think I’ll wear my new glasses’, said Hat as she donned a fragile contraption fashioned of chocolate wrappers and tin foil.

She spent our short journey waving and smiling at all the Africans she saw on the shabby little streets of the Outpost. Most waved and smiled back, some looked mildly startled to witness a child sporting psychedelic spectacles gesticulating madly out of the window. Occasionally she experimented with a royal wave:

‘Look mama, this is how the Queen waves’ (how does she know?).

‘Do you think the queen has a mobile phone?’ (where do children’s questions come from?)

She wears her glasses for the entire duration of our walk. Peering down into anthills willing the mongoose to come out. I imagined them staring back up, unseen from their hiding place in dim mud interiors, ‘Good God! What on earth is that?!’ they’d have exclaimed to one another in horror.

‘The grass is much greener when you’re looking on the bright side’, she told me.

That’s got to be a good thing: especially in Africa.

Driving home, the dogs sated, Hat began to recite nursery rhymes. And I joined in, teaching her the mutated versions we learned at school, 

 Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

All the King’s horses and all the King’s men said,

‘Oh no! Not scrambled egg AGAIN’!

Hat squealed with laughter, ‘that’s so funny Mummy’.

There are moments, little fleeting moments in life, like bubbles: you want to catch them and hang onto them forever, but you know they’ll only pop. I wonder couldn’t we bottle those brief, perfect memories, preserve them forever, like scent. Then, when disillusioned, or sad, or tired, we could uncap their precious contents and allow them perfume our disenchantment away? 

I wanted to bottle yesterday evening.


 Hat and I are going away for a few days: Hat to school, proper school, so that she can engage with children her own age, me to have my highlights done.

Granted 500 miles is a long way to travel for a play date and an appointment with your hairdresser, but needs must.

Not least because Hat responded, when I queried what the population of the Outpost might think of a child wearing enormous homemade spectacles leaning out of a car window waving frantically, ‘they will say, oh look, there goes that nutty child. With her even nuttier mother’.

Yup. Time to get back to the real world. For a bit.


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?

Back to School

January 10, 2008

Tomorrow, before dawn, six of us will squeeze into the car with an indecent amount of luggage, a picnic brunch, some bedding (because one cannot expect even the best hostesses’ linen cupboards to stretch to accomodating a brood of six without supplementing sheets and towels) and we will drive the 750 klm towards school in the north.

Mum will fly back to England on Sunday. And the big kids will go back to boarding school on Monday and we three, Hat, Husband and I will turn tail and drive the 750 klm home early on Tuesday.

The car will be quieter. Our brunch will be a rather solitary and solemn affair and there will be leftovers for the first time in a month.

Just as there will be too many dry towels.


September 4, 2007

Hat and I ought to have been home by last night. We weren’t. We had a car accident. The first – and I sincerely hope the last – of both our lives.

I wasn’t driving. Abdallah – who accompanies husband on lengthy trips – was; both he and husband’s company car on loan to me given fact his newer car significantly more reliable on long journeys than my (much older) one. Until it’s involved in accident of course.

Both Hat and I were in the back. To my eternal shame – and bewilderment – neither of us were wearing belts despite the fact that I am the kind of mother who rings her kids up on sleepovers to ensure they wear belts in host’s car. Despite the fact I have never let the kids ride belt-less in my car either. Perhaps I was deluded into thinking that sitting beside Hat would protect her. Perhaps I thought she deserved brief respite from the belt which she’d been wearing until 15 minutes before when we had to stop so she could be car sick. Perhaps I just didn’t think.

Four and a half hours into our journey which began at 5am and I was beginning to nod off. Suddenly there was a roar from Abdallah. I opened my eyes in time to see the bonnet crumple in front of us and steam and smoke issue forth from beneath it. And dust; the dust was everywhere. The sound of crunching metal and Hat’s screams will stay with me for a long time.

I scooped Hat out and clocked her knocks; one above her eye, welling red. She was quite white and told me I was too – apart from my apparently ”purple” nose (which had collected the seat in front of me).  I retrieved a packet of frozen butter from provisions-for-Outpost cool bag and made Hat hold it to her face; I tried to call husband but network was poor and then I let rip a torrent of abuse at the driver of the other car which had swerved at speed right across the road to connect with us in a head on collision.


He looked at me blankly. It transpired later he and his passenger were from Rwanda. A few merdes! might have struck home more effectively.

We were in the middle of nowhere (story of my life now, it would appear, whatever the situation). There are no tow trucks to call in this part of Africa. And depending on where you are, no paramedics, no AA, certainly nothing of the sort where we were marooned. Abdallah, quite unhurt, strode about crossly, growling at the other driver and trying to make phone calls. He had the presence of mind to request I take photographs.

Fortunately, oh so fortunately, husband’s mates had been visiting him over the weekend and I presumed the boys, on their way home to Arusha, would not be far from where I was since our paths would have crossed at some point during the day. I called. They were a matter of miles away. They rescued Hat and I, sourced a doctor in the nearest large town so Hat could be checked over, fed us both bottles of Coke since we were both shaken and pale. And then, having alerted the police to the site and been assured by me we’d be fine to await husband’s rescue, we waved them on their way with biscuits and water to drop with Abdallah awaiting the cops’ assessment. We made ourselves at home in the petrol station which was to be home for the next six hours. The proprietors were kind and generous and refused to let me pay for the sweets and drinks and crisps I took from their shop. They bought Hat icecreams and told her she was a good girl. Which she is. And a brave one.

The police confirmed what I already knew: that it was the other driver’s fault, entirely. Either – they said – being a west African, he panicked and took to the wrong side of the road (which would – in his country – have been the right one), or his steering column broke, or it was a bungled attempt to car jack us. Bungled is about right; neither car was in a state to be driven.

Finally husband – looking as shattered as we had post impact – arrived from Outpost after a six hour drive and we opted to find a local hotel to spend the night before driving home in the morning.  I drank a beer in lieu of supper, whilst Hat tossed bits of her chicken to the family of alley cats resident in the dining room.  She wondered if she’d have a black eye in the morning and if she did could I take a picture. And she went to bed beside us, a matress on the floor commenting that it was amazing to think she’d been in a car crash that morning.

I just thought how lucky we’d been.


I think we might fly next time. I think given the state of the car, we might have to.

School Run

August 15, 2007

Well. We’re back. Five fleeting nights away – none of which offered much in the way of sleep; first I was nervously anticipating handing children over and then I was weeping into my pillow that I had.

Our maiden school run involved a round trip of 1,300 klms and meant 22 hours on the road.

We watched the sun rise. Both ways.


We ate a picnic breakfast on the bonnet in the bush. Both ways.


We watched the road unravel like rope behind of us.


Yet still lie with disconcerting length before us …


We contended with African traffic jams deluxe. Both ways. In precisely the same spot.


Back in the Outpost I am trying to be upbeat.  No mean feat in light of fact two of my three children are on the other side of this vast country.

 To add insult to injury the chickens decided to turn up their toes and die whilst we were away. The nightwatchmen, who does almost nothing but sleep, only occassionally rousing himself to stretch his legs in order he does not suffer DVT presumably, informs me that the chickens in my garden are dying because the mango tree, which is in flower, is shedding tiny blossom. He says the blossom is bad for chickens. Perhaps they eat it and it makes them sick. I don’t know. I was too tired to care, frankly. But if the fussy birds object to a little bit of blossom, I hate to think what they’ll think when a sodding great rock hard full grown green mango drops on their silly little heads. Hat is as fed up of poultry farming as I. We are going to get a goat.

And in the meantime we are going to stick up a picture of her older siblings that will make us giggle every time we look at it; this one perhaps – karaoke in the car. And alot of laughing. On the way there at any rate.


We embark on our own school tomorrow, Hat and I. In the absence of bloody hens to tend to, we’ll get stuck in earlier than I’d anticipated. You cannot survive in the Outpost if you can’t find a Bright Side to cast eyes upon, even if it seems a little remote.

Not Outpost. Bright Side.