Dealing with stealing

Our house servant was a quiet man who went about his business like a black ghost, almost unseen and unheard. His name was Jotham, and he addressed my father as Bwana, Mummy as Memsahib and me as Memsahib Kidogo. He cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed, unhurriedly and efficiently, and earned about £5 a month, the normal wage. His own living quarters, consisting of two rooms and washing facilities were twenty yards from the bungalow, and were shared with the gardener. As well as their monthly salary they were supplied with beds, a charcoal stove for cooking and a monthly ration of charcoal. It was tacitly accepted that they would help themselves to sugar, tea, milk and anything else they could get away with. When they took our milk they topped up the bottles with water, leaving an increasingly blue watery liquid.

One of my father’s friends showed him how to stop the servants helping themselves to spirits. If they drew a line on the bottle at the level where the spirits reached, the servant could help himself and then top up the bottle to the line. But – if you inverted the bottle and then drew the line at the level of the contents, the servants were completely bamboozled.

I don’t know how true the following story is, but it always raised a laugh, and it was definitely the servant who had the last laugh.

Three bachelors shared a house. Their house servant gave them a shopping list every week, and there was always a bottle of sherry on the list. One day, one of the men remarked that they seemed to get through a great deal of sherry, but none of them drank it. They concluded the servant was helping himself, and decided to give him an unpleasant surprise. Taking a half empty bottle, they topped it up with urine. The following week, the bottle was empty and back on the shopping list. It was time to challenge the servant. How was it, they asked him, that none of them drank sherry, but every week the bottle was empty and they had to buy a new one. Bwana, he replied, I put it in the soup. 😀

Extracted from: I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry, published by Blackbird Digital Books 20th May, 2013.

 

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A long time coming

Today my sixth book is published by Blackbird Digital Books.

Books 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 each took, on average, about a year to write.

No. 6 has taken ten years from start to finish.

The first draft I started in 2002, with the working title “Mothers All” – a reference to all the mothers who affected my life – my own mother, the nuns at the convents where I was educated, my step-mother, and my first mother-in-law.

When I submitted it to my agent, the lovely Maggie Noach who died so tragically young, she was wildly enthusiastic, and proposed it to my then publishers, Transworld. They rejected it, saying that although it was well-written, engaging, etc. etc., memoirs and autobiographies of unknown people did not sell. (I was “unknown” in their terms, as a relatively new author on their list.)

Maggie was indignant and disappointed, and I put the draft away and moved on to a new title.

Over the years I occasionally dug it out, deleted certain events, inserted others, and each time I read the original manuscript with new eyes I realised how much I didn’t like the tone I had used, which was flippant and sarcastic. I was glad it hadn’t been published.

I kept changing the title. It went from “Mothers All” to “The Black Lamb” to “The Anniversary Clock” to “The Anniversary Clock Stood Still.” And it never felt quite right.

Two years ago I started it again and found that my perception of events and characters had changed considerably since I wrote that first draft. The sarcasm and flippancy didn’t fit. I realised they were masking real pain and regret, and overwhelming nostalgia for life in the glorious country of Kenya, and the little grey Somali-Arab pony who meant so much to me.

Over the last few months I have written late into the night, when I could be alone and cry unseen. I’ve shed more tears than a human body could feasibly produce, and I’ve eaten my way through endless plates of comfort food.

Finally I’m happy with what I have written, satisfied that it is honest and sincere and as good as I can make it.

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A huge thank-you to Stephanie at Blackbird Digital Books who has been so supportive and worked so hard in the development and publishing of this memoir. Only she and I know quite how hard it has been. It’s available in Kindle now from all Amazon websites, and paperback later this week.

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Just another day in Paradise

A common question from friends who live in England, is “What do you do with yourselves all day? Don’t you get terribly bored?”

Indeed, when we first moved to France, the vision was of long lazy days. A flaky croissant and a cup of coffee bathed in the gentle early morning sunshine. A peaceful stroll around the garden, feeding the hens and collecting their eggs. Sitting reading as the sun rises into a cloudless sky. Mid-morning coffee, then down to the potager to pluck a crisp lettuce, a couple of vibrant tomatoes and a bowl of strawberries for lunch. By now the sun will be blazing down, and we’ll need to put up the parasol and apply liberal layers of Ambre Solaire to top up the tan. The couple of glasses of wine taken with lunch will induce a pleasant drowsiness, and we’ll just close our eyes for five minutes.

Two hours later it will be time to take the dogs for a long walk through fields of lavender and sunflowers, before friends arrive for aperos and supper on the patio. There’s much laughter, tinkling glasses, the crackling of baguette crust, the smearing of gooey cheeses, the fragrance of freshly-brewed coffee, the song of the nightingales and hoot of the owls, and the shuffling of hedgehogs as they trundle around in the dark, gobbling up slugs. Then to bed, because it’s market day tomorrow and we must be up bright and early to begin another day in Paradise. And friends are arriving to stay at the weekend. Just like you see on those television programmes about expatriates living in France, or hopeful house-hunters. And the sun is always shining.

And indeed, that is exactly how we find life here.

But that’s not all!

Those lettuces, tomatoes and strawberries need planting. So you need to either buy the seed and raise it, or the plants and plant them. That means the ground needs digging over. And weeding – daily. And watering beneath that sunshine. And spraying for blight, and examining for disease and insects. That’s good, because all the exercise in growing the things means you burn off all the calories gained from eating them.

You need to pop to the shops sometimes to buy the coffee and the cheese and baguettes, and the food for the hens and dogs and goats. (I realise I hadn’t previously mentioned the goats, but we have two, pygmies.) And washing up liquid – yes! We do washing up. And washing liquid – we do laundry too. By the way, as an aside, I read recently that fabric softeners have all sorts of horrid chemicals in them and they are very bad for you. I now use vinegar instead. It makes the laundry lovely and soft and fluffy and it doesn’t smell of vinegar.

The dogs traipse dust and mud, sticks and stones into the house, as well as constantly shedding hair, so we sweep and hoover if we have people coming.  Otherwise it isn’t worth the effort, because an hour after you’ve finished, it’s back to where it was. But the sweeping and hoovering takes a small nibble out of our relaxation time.

So it’s not ALL lounging around, and often what looks like a day of uninterrupted pleasure and leisure can turn into something quite different.

Take yesterday, for example.  In the morning I noticed on our three new hens signs of scaly leg which needed treating, and one of the goats has been scratching and rubbing himself on the fence until he’s rubbed bald patches on his neck and rump. I phoned the vet and arranged to collect the necessary medication for that, and emailed our good friend Lilian to ask if she would come and help with administering the treatment. Nothing in the diary except collecting a bottle of Chanel No. 5 in exchange for a bottle of wine. We have a local “Swap shop” on Facebook where anybody can offer anything in exchange for anything else. I got in quickly and grabbed the Chanel. That meant driving to town – six miles – to buy a decent bottle of wine, as we didn’t have anything in our cellar (shelf in cupboard) that was worthy of the Chanel.

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By the time we’d exchanged bottles and had a coffee with some very nice people, it was time to drive to a different town to collect the medication for the hens and goat. While we were in that town we popped into the supermarket for some hair colour (I recently dyed my hair red, which TOH disliked very much indeed, so had to buy a decolorant to take the red out, and a blonde dye to put some blonde back in. Heaven knows why my hair is going to look like after all that). An hour later we emerged with the decolorant, the dye, an Italian expresso machine, a fragile glass teapot, a loofah thing, a small round hairbrush/scalp massager, a tin of teak oil, some ice-creams, four tins of Heinz baked beans and 6 square metres of astro-turf to go in the caravan awning.

We’d missed lunch by now, so ate ice-cream in the car on the way home.

I spent an hour in the afternoon wrenching up wheat from between the patio stones where the wild bird seed we feed in the winter had fallen and sprouted, as well as chickweed and bindweed and some very large thistles. Then I cleaned out the goat shed.

Lilian arrived to deal with the goat and hens. Capturing the goat wasn’t easy, but it was a great deal easier than capturing the hens. The goat was injected and went off flicking his tail indignantly and bleating mournfully. The hens put up a good fight, but we got them in the end, and Lilian scrubbed their legs with a toothbrush and anti-mite treatment, while I held them in my arms and they watched the procedure with interest. One of them got squeezed a little too hard during the capturing and threw up a great stream of liquid as a result. (She wasn’t harmed – it’s something they do if their crop is full of liquid and you put pressure on it.)

Smelling of goat and chicken poo, we all went for a walk with the dogs, and then retired to the house for a drink, by which time it was 7.30 pm.

Having only eaten ice-cream for lunch the pangs of hunger kicked in, and I cooked something quick and easy – pasta. It was so good, TOH said he’d like some more. So I cooked another batch.

By the time we’d finished eating, it was almost 9.00 pm. Where had the time gone? Fourteen hours since I got up and dressed, and not a single moment sitting in the sun. Just time to sprinkle some water on the vegetable patch, put the chickens and goats to bed, and another day was over.

So, English friends, that’s the sort of things we do with ourselves, and no, we don’t get bored. 😀

Would we change it?

NEVER!

 

 

 

 

 

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