Monthly Archives: August 2013

Reaping the Harvest

The rowan trees are heavy with scarlet berries and the hedgerows are full of foragers gleaning late summer fruits for home-made jams and flavoured gin. The weather and the leaves haven’t turned yet but in the mornings I see mist rising from the river and I feel the coolness in the air. Autumn is rolling towards us faster than Knut’s incoming tide.

In the no-man’s-land between earth and sky, swallows trawl the evening air for the protein that will sustain them when they leave us to follow the warmth and the light further south. Starlings on a neighbour’s roof ignore the swallows and gossip among themselves until their inner timers all strike bed o’ clock and they throw their wings wide and head out over the fields in an exodus that leaves the, suddenly unoccupied, TV aerial twanging.

We’ve had a few autumnal days.

Never mind the rain, woman, gimme the bloody frisbee!

But mostly it’s been fine and warm and even an old, old man has found his way out to enjoy the sunshine.

Anyone seen Rufus?

Anyone seen Rufus?

Note the tongue hanging out in case of passing food

The days are shorter, though, and there’s no longer the joy of looking out of my window at 4a.m to find a world bathed in light and the local badgers caught in the act of trying to break into the food bins. At night, I’m no longer beset with moths and daddy longlegs fluttering in my window and dive-bombing my bedside light. Instead, the cooler night air is a refreshing counterbalance to the huge, black, furry furnace that is Eric. A dog so tactile that he MUST stay in physical contact with me while he sleeps. Before too long, I’ll be reaching out to him in the dark to check the tips of his ears. It’s a sure-fire way of knowing if he’s cold – that and the theatrical shivering he’s learned from Floyd. And yes, if he is cold, I will get up and find him a blanket because I’m daft like that.

St Francis loves the winter and she loves Christmas, especially. If she sings Deck the Halls just once more this side of December, I may need alibi. Any time of year makes her happy. She has lived with a stunning view across the valley for more than ten years, now, and the change of colour that each season brings to that view reminds her how lucky she is not to be living in a high-rise in Brixton. (Other London boroughs are available.) And she’s right. And I’m mellowing. Normally I’d be sinking into a pit of gloom the day after the summer solstice but not this year.

I can see my house from up here (just).

I can see my house from up here (just).

This year I’m relaxed about the creeping darkness and the sudden scent of wood smoke from a neighbour’s chimney. Am I getting old? Or is it because I have spent so much of the summer being towed across the fields by Eric, Ernie and Floyd, with the clover brushing my bare legs and a swirl of butterflies leading the dance, that I feel I’ve wrung every last drop from the light half of the year? Maybe. Probably. I’d still rather live in June forever but, until my time machine turns up, I will take a leaf out of St F’s book, look at the view and watch the year change

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Posted by on August 29, 2013 in Musing, Nature


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Photo by Michelle Weber.

It’s a long way from here to there but, sometimes, I think it’s not far enough.

In Reception Class, Miss Stannard said I was a really good reader. That’s because Mum taught me to read before I started school. She says I’m going to university. She says I could be a lawyer. When I’m older.

In Class Two, Miss Fowler said I was really good at sums. That pleased Mum. She says I could be a lawyer or an engineer. When I’m older.

In Class Three, I heard Mr Roberts tell the Head Teacher, ‘Fatima is my little Displaced Person.’  I Googled that when I got home. A Displaced Person is someone who isn’t where they should be.

‘Where should I be, Mr Roberts?’ I want to ask him but he doesn’t know I was listening when he said that so I pretend that I didn’t hear. I think about it a lot, though. Every day. And every night after Mum has turned my bedside light out and gone to talk to Dad about selling our house. She wants to move near a better school. She says I’m too smart for an ordinary primary school. She says I’ve got to get good A-Level grades so I can go to Oxford or Cambridge. When I’m older.

In the summer holidays, when Mum was cross with me for getting all my sums wrong in the test she set, she said I had to stop messing around. She said I’d never be anything worthwhile if I didn’t concentrate. Then Dad said, ‘maybe what Fatima really needs is to go out and play.  Maybe you should just let her be a little girl.’

Now, I’m allowed to go to the play park. The roundabout is there. It’s got Tigger and Winnie-the-Pooh on it. And a weird pointy-faced green thing in a big hat. I like the roundabout – and I don’t like it. I don’t know what to do on it so I sit on the edge and think about what Mr Roberts said. I think about what my Dad said. I don’t know how to play. Instead I worry about when I’m older. It seems  a long way away but it isn’t really. Mum says I need to work hard now and Dad says I need a childhood but I’m not a kid. And I’m not older. I am a Displaced Person.

One day I’m going to ask Dad to come to the park with me. He can help me play on the roundabout. He can spin Winnie and Tigger and I’ll ride on Pointy-Faceand laugh until I forget about when I’m older.

Not Where She Should Be


Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


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I was a little girl once. I still am, though my external self appears to be a middle-aged woman. Inside, among the jumble of anxieties, responsibilities and disappointments, are still a few shiny memories that not only encapsulate a moment in my long ago but also still affect the woman I am now.

That all came out rather complicated. How can I explain? By giving an example, I guess.

The Gambia, 1973. It’s the dry season which my mother, brought up in Uganda, claims is the chilly time of year. I don’t agree. I spend my days wandering about dressed only in my knickers and I’m plenty warm enough. I’m practically feral at this point – I don’t see much of my parents and my little sister, St Francis of Assisi, is in the care of our home help so I’m left to swim, explore the bush, ride horses and, best of all, hang out with a baboon called BooBoo.

Ah, the days when I knew no better. Looking back, that poor animal must have gone out of his mind tied to a tree and being teased by the tourists in the beach-side hotel I called home. Now I’d want to liberate him, then, I just enjoyed being with him. We loved each other, we were pals and I was the one human he didn’t bite.

When a second baboon appears, tied to the same tree, I absorb her into my life and make room in my affections for her. This baboon, Maxi, is a baby. She is half the size of BooBoo but there are those to whom age is no barrier and I often arrive at the tree in the morning to find Maxi taken from her side of the tree to where BooBoo can reach her. I don’t have the vocabulary to say that BooBoo is sexually frustrated but I know that’s why Maxi’s been moved. There’s always an audience that’s highly amused to see BooBoo trying to hump her. I am not amused. I separate them and take Maxi back to safety. The audience breaks up, perhaps they don’t want to take on the fearsomely prudish little English girl who, despite frustrating his desires, can count on BooBoo to protect her from any threat. And no one wants to piss off a baboon.

One afternoon, when the breeze wafting in from the ocean was barely enough to stir the strands of sun-bleached hair that perpetually hung over my eyes, I sat on a low bough of the baboon’s tree with Maxi in my arms. She’d been moved again and I’ve re-moved her. BooBoo is consoling himself with a plate of fruit that I’ve brought but Maxi isn’t hungry. Maxi is tired. Closing her eyes, she rests her head on my chest, hugs my waist with all four limbs and sleeps. And sleeps. And sleeps. I look down on my tiny companion, not daring to breathe, not wanting to disturb her. Flies fuss and flitter from the remains of the fruit to my bare skin and back again. Sweat forms and runs from my pores, I need to pee but I will not move. I believe that Maxi feels safe in my embrace, that’s why she’s allowed herself to fall so deeply asleep and I feel honoured. This furry baby has given me her trust and I will not break it even if I have to wet myself.

I don’t know how long I sat there that day. Maybe it was ten minutes, maybe it was an hour. Time is different when you’re eight, but it left a lasting legacy. Since then I have had many animals, from monkeys to lambs, fall asleep on my lap. Babies too – human babies, I mean – and I have never, ever lost that sense of being honoured when a skittish, wary creature allows itself to fall into a vulnerable state of deep sleep in my care.

The reason that I’m writing about this now is Eric. He’s two and a bit now and, even by Doberman standards, he’s a bloody big dog but he’s still a puppy. One of his most endearing habits is his need of physical contact with me while he sleeps. I have had to lift his head away from my keyboard so that I can type. He’s grumbled and moved a whole half an inch for me. The heat he’s throwing off is making me unbearably uncomfortable and he’s heavy and I wish he’d move away a bit but guess what? I won’t move him (mainly because he weighs forty kilos). Instead I’ll sit here and think about an afternoon forty years ago when I learned the real meaning of trust.

Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie


Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Musing


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Weekly Writing Challenge – I Remember: One Giant Step

I Remember

One Giant Step

Upstairs. She’s making her bed and I want to be where she is. I’m in the doorway to her bedroom. She looks up and sees me.

‘Come on then,’ she says. ‘I’m not coming to get you.’

I’m frustrated, upset, but she won’t come to me. I have to go to her. The space between us is enormous and I’m frightened. I can’t cross it. But she won’t come and get me. Then, suddenly, I’m toddling across the carpet. Her bed is in front of me. A safe place to grab a hold of. The gap closes and I’m there.

‘Well done!’ she smiles. ‘I knew you could do it.’ She picks me up, her eleven month-old daughter who has just taken her first unaided steps.

10 minute writing exercise on my earliest memory written in response to


Posted by on August 6, 2013 in Family Life


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Shhhh, I Think I Can Hear My Muse.

Where the hell has he/she been?

I don’t want to raise false hope but I found the last issue of Mslexia hidden in a cupboard. I hadn’t read all of it so I settled down with a mug of coffee and my feet propped up on the dog to enjoy being inspired (or rather, desperately hoping for inspiration) and guess what? I am inspired – well, nearly. Submissions for the next issue will be set in exotic places and this reminded me of a short story I wrote a few years ago that’s set in West Africa. Mm. It’s unlikely I’ll rework it time to submit it but it got me thinking. I’m very fond of that story and I know it needs work so … I’m going to work on it! Ta Da!

Could this be the moment when Lorraine gets back to her keyboard and makes her MA worthwhile? I do hope so. Watch this space – but don’t hold your breath as you might go blue.


Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Struggling Writers


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Still Too Sexy! And Twenty-One Now!

Last year St Francis and I travelled back and forth to the vets never knowing if each time was the last time. Steroid injections and antibiotics seemed the only answer but one year on and Rufus is completely drug free.

Yes, he’s twenty-one, crotchety, arthritic and possibly suffering from dementia but he is well and happy and still here!

Now that the sun is shining, he even ventures outdoors. St F’s neighbour set me to chopping down brambles and undergrowth in her garden to make it easier for Rufus to get over the fence and visit her. I do worry about his old bones when he lands on the other side but he staggers off with a determined gait. He always finds his way home too. Mind you, that’s because his food bowl is there – and boy, can that cat eat. He is costing a small fortune in Kitty Kat. He’s earned the right of food on demand and he milks it shamelessly. St F swears he forgets he’s been fed when he comes back for more ten minutes after scoffing a bowlful. If you don’t immediately jump to it when he announces his hunger, he’ll plop into your lap and bite your fingers. If you want to stay on the right side of him, it’s best to reach for the food tin as soon as you hear the rusty squawk of his meow or suffer a feline manicure.

Five years older than St F’s oldest child, Rufus has been a part of our little family for very nearly half of St F’s life and no one can imagine life without him – and luckily, we don’t have to yet.

Happy Birthday Rufus Doofus, may you have many, many more cos we love you


Blowing out all those candles takes it out of an old man

By the way, does anyone know how old he is in cat years?


Posted by on August 4, 2013 in Family Life


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