Sunday, 18 April 2021

Royal Funeral

 Grief caught me today, as I watched a coffin draped with a Standard.

My own father's coffin was draped with his Squadron's standard and his service medals. He wasn't a Duke, or a Lord, but he was a father.
And today a father was mourned, by his children who walked. No matter the titles and wealth and position and the history of millennia. They were fighting back tears as children do when they know they will not hear that voice again, hear that laugh.
So grief grips us by the hand and we walk, so reluctant, wanting to run back in time.
Grief is an eternal companion, sometimes with the iron grip of memory, other times just a sad reflection in an old mirror looking behind.
But we walk and we walk on.

Monday, 1 March 2021

Waiting for the rain.

The air this evening smells like Africa before a storm; that high tension state when the grass almost speaks to the cloud heavy sky and begs for rain. The grass is very, very dry, baked hard with no possibility for birds to feed. We have fire warnings in place, and we wait for the sky to crack. The smell will change first then the colour, then the light will sharpen and refocus through the haze. I wait for the moment. But I will miss the smell. The Smell that invites animals to scratch in the shadows, pause and listen, then scatter. I wait for the scattering at the first boom, the first hammer and flash. Then the metal roof will timpani and throw the drops to dance and white water will gutter in gutters and overflow and crash. Yes, tonight feels like the veld.

Friday, 27 November 2020

On the trail of the lonesome agapanthus


This is our first agapanthus of the season.  The weeping elm has grown into a massive bush and the rest of the garden is exploding. I wish we were brave enough to keep a goat, but with a vineyard next door, and the endless ways they find to escape, I'm not sure my nerves would be able to cope.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020


Tonight I smelled the scent of Africa. It was so brief, and died so quickly, it sat like a heavy weight around my feet. It was the grass cuttings I think, capturing the last moment of heat before sunset. It was that petal thin wisp of time when animals scuttle away with their young after grazing, or start to wake to hunt at dusk. That small moment of capturing an even smaller movement just beyond the eye arch, and wondering "friend or foe? Snake or mouse, leaf or frond?" When the minutes and seconds freeze and you are not sure whether to rouse yourself and shake them free, or be static with them, hoping for a glimpse of something as yet unknown. 
 I remember a midnight bush ride. Bouncing in the back of a vehicle, shining an arc lamp into the dense trees, stealing myself for a view of something other worldly. I got my wish when bush baby eyes stared back at me, and as the light beam passed, so did she. Legs scurried in the undergrowth. We heard them, so we stopped, turned down the light, and listened as the leaves crinkled with the dying heat, and somewhere a bird screeched. 
I miss Africa. I miss the hair on my arms rising to a primordial sound. I miss eating fruit from the trees and wondering if it will mean a night with tummy cramps or a night feeling exotic and far away from home and overwhelmingly free. Strangely, I miss the drums of settlements, of women walking along high ridges at dawn, making their way to fields and crops and hard labour for the day, yet singing an awake lullaby. 
 I remember the roadside markets at night, lit with kerosene lamps, making a road brighter than bright. Twinkly, like Christmas, but smelling of mangoes and bananas, and children running around free in the cool and dust, laughing, not noticing they were poor. 
So I am glad of the drying grass and the wink of the veld and the memory of a distant home.

Friday, 25 September 2020


We are on the cusp of spring and the days are longer. This evening, a rare trip to the supermarket alone prompted very strong memories. I seldom shop at night, but this evening I just wanted the quiet pace, the meandering without pressure.
I wasn't prepared for the effect of being in a car alone at dusk would have on me. When I lived for 7 years in a desert, this was the time I would go shopping. It was generally after a very busy and stressful day in the office. The grinding heat would have lost its edge and you could always smell the scent of some flower or plant as the temperature dropped and the ground sighed with relief.
One of the many delights of my desert life were the encounters with shop assistants. They were all unfailingly polite and friendly and it gave me the chance to make small talk - a luxury not really possible during working hours. My local supermarket had beautiful girls from mainland China at the tills. They wanted to practise their English on anyone who had the time to stop. The giving of change and packing of bags was slow and gently drawn out in order to make conversation. The Indian salesmen in the material souks were charming and funny and would tease and laugh. My local florist was Syrian and kept birds in cages all around his shop. He always had time to talk. The people were often intoxicating, as if from another world.
And there is something in that pause between day and night which triggers the deep emotions I so often felt, returning to an empty apartment, making a meal, checking on my neighbours then falling exhausted into my bed. It was a strange zone between sweet contentment and crushing loneliness. Delight in the ever changing variety of each day, followed by the brief interlude of a sensual dusk, the call from the mosque, and the swish of sand as it hurried across the road.
Tonight I am thankful for a brief return to the intensity of that time. But I am also grateful that tonight I don't fall into bed alone and the only sound of the night I hear is of our resident owl calling its mate.

Sunday, 9 August 2020

Battle for the mailbox, Chapter 7

The starling rascals have a new technique. I thought I'd got them by leaving the mailbox lid open to the elements, but the twigs started to appear about a week ago. I have been pulling them out every other day and wagging my finger at the birds on my telegraph wire "I know your game. Leave the mailbox alone" They dive bomb and poop on the mailbox, just to make a point. This morning, as I was leaving the property, I saw something on the floor. I got out of the car to find this morning's mail on the grass at the base of the mailbox. They had thrown it out, and there was a solitary twig, right in the middle of the box, a thumb to the beak if ever I saw one. This means war. I may post photos of the military engagement. I mean, it's not like we are short of trees. We have 50 or so on our property alone, and we are surrounded by forest. Starlings have forgotten how to be tree dwellers it would appear.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Sad family tale

I have come to a place when I can finally tell a story. It is the story of my great grandmother's sister Jane Ann, or Jenny.

When my dad died, I took on the mantle of family researcher. Dad was a natural historian and story teller, and perhaps if the world had been different for him, he could have written down the stories. But instead he collated lots of photos and documents meticulously in folders, and we worked together on mysteries of the family tree, me in one country, him in another.

He periodically mentioned Jenny and her two sons, Charles and Arthur, whom he could not get any further information for beyond the last available Census of 1911.

So after Dad died, I found myself digging, in his memory. What happened to them, and was I genuinely the last of this family line, being an only child with no children of my own?

Like many who investigate their long deceased relatives, information often comes in waves, sometimes a piece of flotsam on the beach leads to revelations of joy and sorrow. In Jenny's case, it was mostly the latter.

Through a group of genealogists on Facebook who gave their experienced help gratis, I discovered that Jenny had four daughters in addition to Charles and Arthur (Dad didn't know this). Three had been born and died between the Censuses. Almost by accident I uncovered a census entry for the second daughter, living far away from either her mother or father's family. It transpired that she had been put into the care of Barnados foster families for several years then returned to her father. In the final official information about her, she was living in a mental hospital during WW2. Tragically, this was also the fate of Arthur, her older brother.

This week through wild card searches on the web I discovered that the first girl born in the family had died in a freak accident before her first birthday, being smothered by her own bedclothes. The youngest two daughters died age 2 and 3 after the widowed father returned to the E. End of London immediately after Jenny's death.

Jenny died of consumption aged 38. Her sister, my great grandma had nursed her. I have her death certificate, which had been kept safely with all our family papers. I remember my dad telling me that Jenny and my great grandmother were very close. Their older brother and sister were lost to illness, a burden that many Victorian families bore due to devastating and deadly childhood diseases. My great grandma had lost her firstborn twins and my grandfather was her only child. Then she lost her sister. To my knowledge and my dad's knowledge she never saw her nephews and nieces again. I doubt she knew that the children suffered terribly as their father had a breakdown and turned to drink after his wife's death. So that left me trying to trace Charles. He was last mentioned during World War 2 as a bus conductor and his wife was working making radios for the war effort. I think I found a record of their daughter, and her three sons, who are are of my generation. But here the road stops. There are no more signposts, just lots of dead ends.

This branch of my family has caused many tears for me - a sense of loss, and grieving for lives that were so hard. Arthur and his sister lived to ripe old age, but we didn't know that. If my father had known, he would have visited them. Family was family. If my great grandmother had known the fate of her nephews and nieces, I think she would have tried to adopt them. She only had one child and she and my great grandfather were modestly prosperous. It could have ended very differently. I just hope the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Charles will somehow carry some of the love and grace of their ancestor Jenny.