Fat Africa

March 1, 2017


The southern Serengeti is fecund with life. Everything is fat: the wildebeest as they trail to and fro across these vast plains, so big you wonder that you don’t fall clean off the edge, honk and bleat and call. This is an ancient, circuitous route: each year a million of them meander across the savannah driven by primal instincts to eat, to breed. Almost all of the females are accompanied by a calf, pale newborns with black faces. They tumble to the ground on delivery and are up and racing almost immediately, such is the urgent life into which they are born.  We are always just too late to witness this extraordinary wild miracle of birth: the calf is getting to its feet, the afterbirth still evident.


The zebra are even more more fatbottomed than ever. The grazing here is plentiful, newgreen and tender. They eat, noses to the ground but rear pretty head up and skip skittish when they hear our vehicle, plump girls in a dance hall. Then from safer distance they regard us bashfully through long, long black lashes.

Ruaha Dec 14 Stripes.JPG

We come upon a male lion reclining in the shade. He is the most handsome specimen I have ever encountered, his eyes bright amber, his skin unmarked,  his mane thick and glossy and fully, L’Oreal Lion I think, because he’s worth it?


A little way off we encounter the youth, four plump males lolling, siesta still. They are so well fed – all those meandering wildebeest, heavy with life, all those zebra with their generous derrieres – they wear rolls around their middles. I have seen lion torn eared from fights over food, I have watched lioness savagely, hungrily, rip the last shreds from a carcass.  Here we find still born wildebeest still intact, not even the vultures are hungry enough to pick them apart.


Dung beetles roll their prizes – perfectly round brooding balls of dung, plentiful now on these well-fed plains – each pair busily tumbling so that when I pick them up in my hand I can feel the tiny might of their efforts in my palm. The females will lay their eggs inside.  The dung beetle is related to the scarab which the ancient Egyptians revered: the god Khepri renewed the sun every day before rolling it up above the horizon.


Our rising suns here are clouded in blankets of cloud which settle low on long horizons and deliver their bounty of rain each evening so that the greenness of this vast spreading place is topped up a little more. This is fat Africa, a place of such perfect balance that even in the harsh dealing of death to the weak and the slow, everything seems sated.


And we do too as we bounce the five hours home.


The Drama of Storms

February 18, 2017

So the rain came down.

After two weeks of suffocating, sittingonyourchestinthemiddleofthenight heat so that you almost can’t breathe, the rain came down.

For days I have watched, and willed, hulking clouds nearer, pleading with them to bulk up blackly. And every evening they dissolved on my horizons and left just whispers of white against a cornflower blue. And the heat grew.

But last night the rain came. Here, in the Outpost, it comes with pomp and ceremony, no timid drizzles, no bashful shower. Here it announces its arrival with an orchestra of sound and light, thunder crashes as cymbals I can’t see and the lightening which is as a searing strobe illuminates my room as hot phosphorous and neon that burns my eyelids open, and then it’s gone and I’m plunged to inkdark again. Briefly.

And then the rain comes and you will it to stay so that dust may settle and heat may dissipate, for a few days at least, and you hope this is not all show no go.

I listen to fat drops fall on the tin roof, a clamour of applause and I feel the cool envelop the room and I smell Africa quenching her thirst.

And later I hear the storm move on, I picture a busty opera singer, a diva, bouncing from the stage to her dressing room, all bossy instructions and high notes that fade as she moves down a corridor to a place I can no longer see or hear her.

With sun up I skip out onto wet, wet grass in bare feet and lift the rain gauge to see what was delivered: an inch, a whole glorious dust laying, heat stealing, promising inch.

kwäləfəˈkāSH(ə)n/ or, How Meaningful Are Degrees, Really? or, Why I’m not eligible for an MA in Creative Writing

February 8, 2017

The following is an essay I am about to submit by way of arguing my way onto an MA.

Qualification. It’s a lofty word. Imperious. A mouthful; five whole syllables: qual·i·fi·ca·tion. What does it mean? The dictionary defines it, lumpenly, as ‘a quality or accomplishment that makes someone suitable for a particular job or activity’. My Roget’s Thesaurus spits out a long list of colourful synonyms: adequacy, competence, experience, skill, what it takes.

My son, MSc BEng (Hons), has a qualification as an environmental engineer, as described on his degree from Imperial College London. My signature wears no post-nominal letters , I have no pieces of paper framed upon my walls, winking glassy encouragement on sunlit mornings. But I am a mostly, hopefully, reasonably adequate, competent – mother. I certainly have the experience – 25 1/2 years and I’ve definitely got what it takes: three children. Does that render me qualified. Certainly.  As Just a Mum. My eldest daughter, MA (Hons) Cantab, is always irked by the ‘just’; ‘don’t diminish what you do, what you’ve achieved, with that silly little word, just’, she says crossly, ‘say I’m a Mum’.

Once, a long time ago, when I was young, less belligerent (like Dame Helen I wish I’d told more people to Fuck Off when I was 25 Mirren, at fifty I do), less confident, I minded that I didn’t have a documented qualification.  I thought it meant I was smaller, hadn’t tried hard enough, accomplished much. Oddly – or perhaps not so oddly, perhaps bloody-mindedly – it meant I was determined on two counts: to make sure my children – all my children, but especially my daughters – could always say they were something else, had been something else, somebody else, before they were mothers. If, indeed, they ever choose to equip themselves with the necessary accessories to be parents and then put in the gruelling hours that qualify them to be called Mum. And to busily prove myself. As something. somebody.  Somebody other than Just a Mum.

So I began to write. Whilst the children were at school, I wrote. I wrote a lot. And I set my bar high. I will write for The Times, I told myself. I had no idea how to approach such an ambition. Naturally I did it wrong, with gauche naiveté.  Happily – and very luckily – for me, my email landed on the desk of a female editor who, whilst she saw no merit in my advance (too wordy, too purple, too many exclamation marks, far too long for a busy editor on one of the UK’s most widely-read newspapers), she did spot the teeniest hint of value in my story idea. So she commissioned me. She daringly commissioned me; the measure of a real editor, bravely putting her neck on the line for new, raw voices.  Over a year she coached me, usually quite crossly, always impatiently. I learned not to smart at her terse ticking offs. I learned, instead, to write, to pitch, to sniff out a news peg upon which to hang my ideas. And I have continued to write, my words number in the thousands now, hundreds of thousands. They’ve appeared in all the UK broadsheets, several fat glossies (my words perfumed with Chanel samples and L’Oreal shampoo sachets), across the pond in the Washington Post and in the ether at the Huff Post; I wrote to Arianna Huffington to get that gig; the submissions desk kept ignoring me. Ms Huffington wrote back directly and within days I was launching my own blog on the site.

I didn’t write to her – or anybody else – out of a sense of entitlement or arrogance and certainly not because I thought I had a special talent. I did it because I had a story to tell, because I loved playing with the language, putting a word in and then plucking it out when I found a better one, building a necklace of precisely the right colour and length.  Because I had things to prove. What? That I had a brain? That I could fashion an identity all of my own, other than A’s Wife, B’s Mother? But mostly because I understood, somewhere, between the necessarily insistent demands of my children, school runs, eternal feeding and shopping, school plays, cricket matches, homework that one day there would be no happy – and sometimes unhappy – clamouring for my attentions, that one day my nest would be tipped empty and silent. I knew I had to – have to – sculpt another dimension to myself.   And words were the tools I had to hand.

So? Have I proven myself thus far? What recognition is there for these, my roles. Mother. Writer. My educated, mostly happy, children? The ones I encouraged towards the university endorsements I do not have, could not have for myriad reasons but not because I lacked the resolve or the intellect. Have I demonstrated that I can write? Are by-lines proof? Possibly not given some of the journalists who wear them.  Do commissions from illustrious publications attest to an ability to string a few words together coherently?  Possibly not; journalism is fraught with nepotism, favouritism, plagiarism. All kinds of isms.

So there remains the niggle: I still apparently need that piece of paper. But more, much, much more than that, I need – want – instruction in my art.  I want to learn more than I already know. I want to talk to others in the know about words and how to shape them and how to pull and stretch language so that it fits precisely the gap I am trying to fill.  And sometimes, some bleak days when the words are elusive, beads spilt on the floor escaping my determined clutches to thread them neatly, I need inspiration. A kick up the arse. The desire, a deep burning that sits below my sternum so that I feel it palpably, as heartburn, makes me wonder: could I have borne the passion to learn anything as much as I do now when I was 18?   It is not the yearning for A Piece of Paper, it is the longing for This Piece of Paper. How do I know? Apart from the fact I’ve already demonstrated to myself a passionate commitment to my words, to language, to framing the story? Ten years ago, rattling a little in the void borne of my emptying nest (as children grew up) and my emptying inbox (as commissions dried up) I said to my husband, ‘I think I might do a degree online’. Great, he said. ‘I think I might do a degree in psychology’. Don’t be a cliché, he said. He was right; my aspirations were about sterile, documented qualifications not burning, heartfelt vocations.  Ten years later, last week, I said, I think I might do a degree online’. Great, he said. ‘I think I might do an MA in Creative Writing’. Go for it, he said.

But I face an obstacle. Degrees are like stepping stones it turns out. You cannot plunge to an MA or an MFA or an MSc without neatly navigating a BA or a BSc first.  Those are the rules. You can’t short circuit the system. You cannot Pass Go. Cannot collect £200. You can’t get to D without going obediently via A, B, C. In that order. Which I think is funny (funnyanomalous, not funnyhaha): my mother’s neurologist told me that she would never learn to read again because her brain was too damaged post stroke; ‘messages will no longer route correctly’, he declared. I said, ‘I thought they’d learn to go D A C B?’. Not in the case of your mother, he retorted with finality, and stalked off. He was the expert, with the qualification, he was right. But he wasn’t; my mum can read again. The message got there in the end. It found a new road to take.  And it did that because she refused to accept that rules are there for anything other than to be tested, leant against, bent, sometimes even broken.  And that some rules are just stupid.

So the gatekeepers who stand at the river I am trying to forge, who guard the stepping stones, put a hand out when I rudely stretch ahead of myself in a bid to clamber aboard the rock marked MA Creative Writing. You can’t go there, they say. You need to spend time on rock BA first. I don’t want to, I say. Those are the rules, they insist. But I want to be on the MA, I say.  It is expected that your spoken and written English will be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study. Please see the website for details. But it is, I say. And I have: looked at the website, a dozen times. I have written at The Times, the Telegraph, the Washington Post. In English. I know how to write, how to spell. I even know when to use colour and when to use color. Nobody’s listening. If you do not have a background in creative writing, you are strongly recommended to undertake some preparatory work. I do, I have! The MA in creative writing assumes that a candidate for a master’s degree already has the knowledge and skills usually acquired by pursuing the subject at undergraduate level. Why! Why? Why does an undergraduate degree prove I have an aptitude for this course?  Why does the experience I have gleaned, the lessons I’ve learned, the commitment I’ve shown, the work I’ve already done not count? (Oh, all that stuff you picked up the University of Life you mean? Well yes, if you insist, though I hate the phrase – now there’s a cliché.)  Because, as a friend told me thirty years ago, as I wept into my drink when I didn’t get a job I had applied for simply because I didn’t, don’t, have a degree, ‘you haven’t got documented proof that you can think; you’re never going to make the shortlist’.  This is a module for candidates with experience of writing creatively and not for those who are just starting to write. Oh please, please listen to me: I write. I do. I promise! I have been writing for years, nearly twenty years. I understand the challenge of finding the right word, of testing it out, like a piece in a jigsaw puzzle: will it fit? I know the frustration of tossing it aside when it doesn’t, feel the fat satisfaction when it does. I see language in colours and shapes, there are words, single words, that I love for their vibrancy, their flamboyance, their sheer brilliance, the glorious way they roll from my tongue: onomatopoeia. I know the thrill that comes with reading a phrase that has used language so economically, so cleverly, that every single word bears significance so that a short, unassuming sentence is lent telling weight. The qualification will not offer remedial training for those who have an inappropriate undergraduate degree or inadequate experience. I know that. It’s also why I know this course is exactly right for me: no other course lends the opportunity to explore my passion in my genres: creative non fiction and poetry. No other course affords the indulgence of a sometimes compromised imagination but allows a delight in lyricism. Any such students beginning the qualification do so at their own risk. Is this a risk? If it is, it’s a tiny one. Writing to that very first editor, with my ill formed pitch, with no knowledge of how to interview a subject, no idea of how to navigate a style guide and only knowing I couldn’t ask any of those questions – how do I do that? (anathema for I am an asker of questions) for then I’d definitely prove myself the rookie I was. Now that was a risk.

So, I ask: have I proved myself adequate as a writer? Have I demonstrated competence? Do I have experience? Absolutely, yes. Does that mean I bear a qualification – qual·i·fi·ca·tion – the right qualification, the crutch to navigate my way from where I stand to the stone I’ve got my sights on, rudely pushing my way past the first? Depends on who you ask, apparently.

I told my children that their university educations were not a right, and definitely not a rite of passage. They were, I said, a privilege, to be earned, to be cherished, you had to want them, really, really badly, and you had to deserve them.

And I deserve this.

How to Write?

February 4, 2017

Sometimes I wish I were braver. Sometimes I wish I were bold enough to write everything down. Almost everything. Describe every day, every emotion, every challenge, every failing. My diary – handwritten, the scrawl illegible and on a slant so that you must tip the pages of my journal sideways to read – is testament to single days (mind numbing minutea much of it, who said what to whom why) but emotions, challenges, failings feature large. Private anger, concealed melancholy, occasional clandestine blowing of my own tinny trumpet. But here? Here there are people who would be shocked, outraged, saddened, disappointed.

Once, once a long time ago, I articulated my impotent rage at Outpost living. I ranted. Unabridged. Unadulterated. My husband never reads this. But he did that day. And the shock, outrage, sadness, disappointment was etched into his expression that evening; ‘I read your blog today’.

How must writing be to be believable? To register as authentic?

And what of the emotions, the challenges, the failings? My emotions, challenges, failings?

The emotions see-saw, vacillate between one day and the next, sometimes a single hour and the one that follows (a swim helps, a glass of wine, each narrows the gap between feeling wretched and feeling as if it’ll all be ok). The challenges are many. Where does one go in one’s head when one has been cast off in a veritable sea of silent space? So much space that thoughts have room to jangle. And jangle they do. I long to say, ‘there aren’t enough hours in my day’. But there are too many to fill. Tight schedules necessarily demand direction and discipline. If I don’t get out of bed in the morning, it won’t matter much. Most days. And the failings. Those are they that stalk large and cold at 3am. That’s when I wonder, ‘is it too late?’. Is it too late to write with real success? Is it too late to achieve all the things I want to achieve? Have I squandered the time – and I, for my geography and circumstances, have been gifted more than most: time. How careless to waste it.

How honest to be. Where is that fine line that divides a rant, a moan, the cumbersome wearing of hearts on sleeves and writing well with a believable voice, an empathetic tone, lightly about the dark.

And should we write what we know?


February 2, 2017

Why do demons loom so large at 3 in the morning. When the night is depth of dark and still and silent. Then, at that dead hour between the dawn and midnight, worries rear ugly shapes huge and I lie awake, my head full of loud voices and alarming faces. It is too late to sleep deeply and satisfyingly again, too early to rise.

Then, at 4 in the morning, I fret about time slipping by, I worry about not having achieved, I worry about the writing I promise myself I will do and the writing I don’t, I worry about mum, I worry that I am shrinking her world and not expanding it. I worry about aloneness and distance and how many more days I can cope in this peculiar hiatus of faraway living surrounded by walls and fences, tightly sewn up, claustrophobic, whilst Africa sprawls carelessly all around me. I worry about opportunity that has run away. I worry about never being able to catch up with it – with anything – again.

At 4 am I think I may never sleep again.

I do and I dream but my dreams are not peaceful places. Anxiety tiptoes around the edge of them.

I wake again at seven. The demons have receded a little. I can no longer hear them clamouring, no longer see their cruel profiles so sharply drawn.

But their footsteps are there to examine in the smokey grey of breakofday light.

They are big; have left a deep tread.


January 29, 2017

My eldest daughter, A, is enraged when I use the word just. As in, I’m just a mum.

Don’t say that, she says, crossly.

I used to think she scolded me because, as a feminist, she was mildly embarrassed by the fact her mother had never forged a proper career.

Why do we do that? Why do mums who don’t go out to work do that – say I’m justamum – because I’m not the only one.

Is it because if I were a – say – a teacher, like my daughter, my sister, or if I were a journalist who worked on a paper, 9 to five, Monday to Friday, I’d say,’I’m a teacher. I’m a journalist’. I’d never say, ‘oh I’m just a teacher, just a journalist’.

Funny that. Because they’re proper jobs. With salaries? Employers? Recognition? Accolades?

Is it because, if we have children, we are necessarily mothers by virtue of gender and biology. Just like we’re wives or sisters or daughters. You’d never introduce yourself, ‘I’m A; I’m a wife, sister, daughter’. Even then I must qualify my position – I’m A’s Wife, B’s Mum. Because, ordinarily, I am meeting people within the context of others’ lives. Their work, their schools.

I’m a Mum. A pregnant pause. And …? What else are you?

It’s easier, always easier, to say, Justamum, and I deliver it with a little laugh. People know then not to ask anything further – and usually they don’t. Ah right. They move on and you’re spared the discomfort of having to say, because You’re a Mum, ‘nope that’s it. Just a Mum’. You’ll say it in end.

But I am, I say to my daughter the next time she ticks me off, it’s what I am. It’s what I do.

What I have always done.

‘Then say that’, says my daughter A with a hot glare, ‘say, I am a Mum’.

And then she says, so that I know she is not, has never been, embarrassed by what I do.

‘Don’t diminish what you do with just‘.


January 23, 2017

A child taps impatiently at my car window. Tap, tap, tap. He won’t be ignored. He is small, wearing dirty shorts and shod in bare feet. He’s pushing a young man in a makeshift wheelchair whose legs are tangled in a useless knot.

It’s hard not to notice Africa’s poverty – especially when you live in a far flung place like I do where jobs are hard to come by, where, I was once told, families park off their ‘unwanted’. The crippled, the sick, the old, the insane. For years, here, in the Outpost, lived a poor deranged man who had a penchant for ladies nightdresses. I’d often encounter him, roadside, tucking into a piece of fruit that a street vendor had given him, flamboyant in purple negligee. Today I saw a man bedecked in black bin bags, wrapped about his wrist, upon his head, worn as a hat.

The crippled, the sick, the old, the insane.

And no welfare to prop them up.

I’ve lived here all my life. And I still don’t know what to do when a man, a woman, a child, children approach begging. I don’t know what’s the right thing to do. If I ignore an outstretched pitifully, pleading palm I feel brutal and cold and cruel. But if I give, am I feeding an addiction? A friend who works with street children urges people not to give them money for they will use it for glue or drugs, ‘and they are rarely hungry’, she adds, ‘the shop keepers and restaurants frequently feed them’. So what, I ask, what to give? A smile she says, ‘they rarely enjoy positive engagement’. I try to remember that.

Stories of roping the crippled, the sick, the old, the insane into money making schemes by manipulative families and community members abound. For they do draw cash. Years ago, a visitor to Africa, who was resolved to Make Poverty History long before the banded slogan was popularly touted by European politicians, who himself used a wheelchair, was accosted outside a city cinema by a cripple.

‘why should i give you any money?’ he asked the cripple, not unreasonably, ‘see I can’t walk either’, and he gestured to his chair.

The cripple, shuffling along the pavement on padded knees, considered this for a moment, ‘fair enough’, he said, and proffered a few shillings in the direction of the determined do-gooder who waved his money aside but handed him a business card instead.

‘Come and see me here’, he said, indicating the address on the card, ‘we’ll teach you a trade so you can work and earn a living rather than beg for one’.

A few weeks later, the cripple duly arrived at the address and was taught how to tailor, quickly he became adept at using his Singer sewing machine. Months passed and his patron asked him how he was getting on.

‘I enjoy the work’, he said, ‘I like working among others in the workshops’. His patron smiled broadly, benevolently.

‘But I don’t earn nearly as much as I did on the streets’.

Is granting a little dignity with one hand worth it, I wonder, when you take away something else almost as precious (what use is dignity if you’re hungry, cold, can’t educate, feed, clothe your children) with the other?

When we were children and drove up to Town from the farm, parking in the Centre was a perennial nightmare, you’d circle the block endlessly trying to find a spot. Unless, of course, you patronised PegLeg as Dad did. PegLeg moved swiftly between lines of traffic, one leg bent, stunted, useless, a big wooden stick worked as a punt as he vaulted his way quickly, deftly, towards the car when Dad beckoned. Then PegLeg would urge one of the parked cars, with chauffeur dozing at the wheel, to move out and along so that his customer could park. They always obliged. And we always got centre-of-town parking.

PegLeg was paid for his services when you got back to your car and found the contents still intact. He wore a big gold watch. And he was the only street dweller that I’d ever seen who wore a wristwatch at all.

Would he, I thought later, have given up his big stick and his punters for an apprenticeship in a workshop. I don’t think so.

I’ve lived here all my life. And I still don’t know what to do when a man, a woman, a child approach begging. I never know what’s the right thing to do.

The little boy is still tapping urgently on my window. I fish a note from my bag, wind the window down, hand it to him. He thanks me, stuffs the cash into his back pocket and hastily wheels his charge on.


January 21, 2017

Home now.


I’ve been out of the Outpost for seven weeks what with one thing and another.

By the time I get home, I am very happy to be here – wherever you live (even when its far flung and lonely) it’s always delicious to get home – back to Ant, back to the dogs, back to the cat who has not noticed my absence and is utterly indifferent to my return (unlike the dogs who are besides themselves with happy delirium and dash about bringing me presents of leaves and sticks and whining their pleasure and wagging tails so hard they are almost bent in two – as Ant always says, Labradors love their owners more than their wives do – how does he know, ‘lock both in the boot of your car for an hour and see who’s more pleased to see you when you let them out!’. )


It took two days to wind our way inland – Mum and me – from salty, sultry, sandy, beachy east back to the wild wayout west. Traffic thinned as we drove. From hectic nose to tail, life in your hands, lines of lorries to places where you can zip along far too fast watching the bush blur past because there’s almost nothing else on the road.




And I take another two days to unpack and shake the sand from shoes and gather up all the bits and pieces floating at the bottom of my case, errant and important sheets of paperwork that I’ve ignored for seven weeks and now have no excuse not to tend to.


It is easier, I observe, to come home to a place that my children did not recently fill with noise and laughter and banter and bickering, it is easier to come back to a place that’s quiet, except for my Ant who I have not seen for two weeks and those glorious animals who I’ve not seen for the best part of two months. They stay very close for now, watching me closely for signs of imminent departure.


But for now I’m not going anywhere.




The rain comes down hard this afternoon. This is our Wet Season. We have only one here in the west: for 7 months of the year we are popodom-crack dry, the sand biscuit coloured and bare, the sky an eternal, omnipresent, predictable, reliablyabsolutleyclearofclouds blue, and for the other five we are buffeted by glorious storms that bustle in full of shouty attitude. They bluster about and throw tantrums with fists full of lightening which they hurl to the earth in bursts of furious energy, and angry growls of thunder and the rain comes tipping down. And the garden suddenly reveals itself and stuff I’ve long forgotten I planted comes to life and the toasty earth is carpeted in green and the trees shiver at the deliciousness that comes with slaked thirst


Too Much?

January 17, 2017

When Amelia was sick, I hung by her hospital bedside.  I lay on the narrow couch in her room and got up every hour, more, to feel her brow, kiss her cheek, stroke her hair from her face, feverish, then cool, then feverish. I did that for four nights and some nights I snatched only an hour or two. Some nights, persuaded I ought to go home to bed, I’d wake at 2am, lie awake and fretful, then slide from the sheets, pull on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, pick up the car keys and my phone and slip quietly out into the sultry darkness to drive to hospital. I drove too fast on empty roads lit only by a sagging moon and would barrel onto the wards to the surprise of night staff who only expected me at breakfast time. I would enter her room and feel such enormous relief to see her peaceful and free of fever and sleeping painlessly.

You unravel a little with not enough sleep and then I could feel my voice rising hysterically as I fretted to the nurses that the meds weren’t doing their thing hastily enough, or when her veins closed up, inflamed, and staff would have to prod for a new passage for the IV and bruises would bloom. I spent too much time, my haggard complexion jaundiced in the light of my cell phone late at night, or in the mean wee hours of morning, as I consulted with Dr Google. I enraged Amelia’s physician in the way histrionic mothers in hospitals can.

Which embarrassed my  husband  who lost patience with me eventually, for my arguments didn’t make sense anymore. ‘You are a great mother’, he said, sternly, ‘but sometimes you are Too Much’.

My eyes welled hot tears behind sunglasses and I tilted my chin defiantly and didn’t say a word.

It has taken days for me to have the head space to go back to this; sometimes you are Too Much.

This is what I do. Mother. It’s what I have done for 25 years. Fashion and nurture and sculpture and grow small people. It has taken precedence over every single other thing in my life. Everything else has had to wait when there has been a maternal crisis to tend to.  And that’s not a good thing – I know that: to forget to eat, to sleep, to clean your teeth whilst you fret and try to fix your child. You can’t do any job well on coffee and nerves.

But, days later, well fed, well rested, caffeine free, I go back to these words and pick them apart.

Had I done other things – had I combined a proper job with Mothering – would I, then, have been granted a healthier perspective? Is my all consuming parenting the result of the fact it is the single significant job I have? Or are all mothers at risk of becoming Too Much when their children are unwell, afraid, unhappy?

Is mothering a discipline we can meter out sensibly, rationally, or is it something more primal?


Amelia left this morning. This morning, just; we were 25 minutes into the day. We spent our evening on our shared double bed – which I had insisted upon so that I could throw out an arm in my midnight sleepiness and place a palm upon her brow even as she recovered to check for fever  – playing Rummy. She always beats me. I had strapped her foot.  Lectured on which meds to take when during her 13 hour flight to London.  I could hear the rumble of her taxi down the sandy road to the house, see its headlights cast a glow against the windows. And a familiar weight settled in my chest.

Time to go, I said.

Cheerfully she parcelled up chargers and phone and Kindle and stray bits of clothing to bung into a suitcase fit to burst and she hugged me and she told me she loved me and I stood in my pajamas and bare feet in the dark and I waved and I did not cry until I was back inside. Alone and small in that huge double bed with nobody’s brow to check for coolness.

And it is only then that I know I am not Too Much. For when I have to, when I know they are safe, well, happy, my children, I drop my arms from around them, I open my hand and force a wave goodbye.

And I kiss my fingertips and I blow.

And I let go.





January 15, 2017


It’s a big, heaving, living, sighing thing out there: that great big sea that comes and goes and whispers and roars and lies calmly flat or rages and roils.


I imagine an enormous silent creature that rises as the tide recedes, its stony spine visible, one that is swallowed by the waters as the water rolls back in again so that I no longer see its bonewhite back as the waves charge up the beach and  ghost craps scuttle sideways in and out of the breakers.


Evolution is a slow thing. But not the movement of the ocean, the pull of tides. It’s on the turn. Every six hours, a new face.


And that makes me think about Change. I think of friends whose lives have changed already this year. Blink of an eye change. I think about friends who know their lives are going to change. I wonder about my own; about the changes that may manifest this year.


Some change is inevitable. Expected. Like the rolling in and out of the sea.  It changes shape, its timetable. But it’s going to happen. Change.

But some change hits you like a bolt from the blue. I know about that kind of change. People say change is good, that it keeps us on our toes, makes us better people, broader thinkers. And it does: the right kind of Change. But not that kind of Change. That kind of change unseats you so you topple and sway and subsequent decisions are born of giddy off-centre thinking and too little sleep.

Whatever its shape, whatever shape it leaves you in, there is apparently no alternative but to put your head down and brave it. I’ve seen friends rise with grace from Terrible Change. Did they, I wonder, stand in the storm and when the wind resolutely blew the wrong way, buffeted them mercilessly, did they learn to adjust their sails.

I think it’s easier said than done. So this evening, as my tide recedes  and the sound of the sea quietens,  I’m thinking about friends trying to manage sudden, ill winds and I’m wishing them a smoother passage.