Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

The time we went to see the penguins

When I was 18, I decided that Africa would be a good idea. And so I moved there. I lived in a little town called Luderitz on the Namibian coast and loved it. My friend Lucy and I worked hard producing the local town newspaper and working in some of the schools.

We had been there a few months when it was time to decide what to do for Christmas. A whole load of other volunteers were heading to Cape Town for it and before leaving England, I had had this romantic idea in my head of climbing Table Mountain on Christmas morning and sitting on the top sipping a hot chocolate. It was decided then. We would head to Cape Town and join in the fun.

It was lovely. It was a lovely way to spend our first Christmases away from home. At the Long Street Backpackers, where we stayed, all the guests gave about £3 each and a few people went to the shop and got loads of food and we all sat round a massive long table, relative strangers, and had a wonderful muddled Christmas day together. Later that evening, we got it into our heads that everyone needed to be thrown into the pool. And so everyone was thrown into the pool. Fabulous.

We weren’t exactly partying hard or anything but we were letting our hair down after an intense few months. One night, we went to a club called Jo’burg and this one girl decided she was going to have a ‘dance-off’ with one of the local South African guys. We recoiled in horror and ran off, leaving her to her own silliness in the club. So you see, we were being a little bit silly.

One day, however, we decided to have a more sedate day. We were a bit tired from the partying and felt a little off-kilter being around strangers at a time when people were usually with their families. We withdrew from it all and made a plan to get the train out to Simonstown, about an hour away, and walk along the coast a little and see the penguins. There was a massive colony there, apparently.

We boarded the train and made the journey but, given our state of tiredness, were struggling not to nod off. By the time we got to Simonstown, we kind of wanted another sit down. We walked along the seafront with its lovely old high street and started our walk out to see the penguins. It was going to be half an hour’s walk. After about five minutes, we spotted a cafe and agreed en masse, that sitting down and having lunch was quite quite necessary if we were going to make this walk.

And sit down we did. We ordered most of the things on the menu and scoffed them then had to sit very still for fear of exploding. One of the group had developed a crush on the waitress so of course we lingered for longer.

By the time someone was brave enough to mention finishing the walk out to see the penguins, the rest of us kind of looked at our watches and huffed and puffed a bit and said we didn’t know if we’d make it there and back in time for the train back (I’m sure we would have, it was mid afternoon, not midnight) and our little legs certainly didn’t want us to go.

So we walked the five minutes back to the train station and got the train back to Cape Town.

That’s what happened the day we went to see the penguins.

In conversation with my 18 year old self

Ok, 18 year old me, I’d like you to calm down a little bit. Just…. calm down. You’re a bit crazy and all over the place. You’d do well by scaling it back a bit.

Also, I don’t want to ruin the dream but that ambition you have, to marry Michael Jackson… That’s, um, it’s not going to happen unfortunately. I won’t tell you why. The other ambition, to see him in concert, also doesn’t come true. He does plan a tour in England but, um, he doesn’t make it. Again, I won’t tell you why.

Also, your expectation that you will have a terribly meaningful and world-changing role in life… yeh, turns out you’re a bit ordinary, like everyone else. What a thought, hey?! After all that time being convinced of your own superiority and differentness.

O, and your thing about being ‘boring’, you hate that idea, right? Hate it. Urgh, imagine being boring, that would be the worst! Well, you’re not that bothered anymore. You enjoy the simple pleasures in life – cooking, being outside, growing vegetables, seeing other countries, having lunch with nice friends. Just calm down about the ‘boring’ thing. It’s going to happen. Get over it.

You know how you love going out dancing? In a few years, you won’t really ‘go out’ at all. You hate the idea of being squashed in next to a load of sweaty strangers, actually. You dislike the drunken nonsense that you talk and that other people talk to you. In fact, in about ten years, you’ll barely consume alcohol at all, a few times a year maybe. It’s better that way, trust me. We both know what we get like with a drink in us.

And you don’t wear make up at all. I know, after all that time poking your eyes out, trying to work out how to wear eye liner. No, you don’t wear anything now. You’re too lazy. Sorry to break it to you but you’d rather spent the time in the morning having a cup of tea and blogging than poking your eyes out.

Yeh, you’re a ‘blogger’ now. You’re mad for it! You’re one of those. One of those sad people who thinks others want to read about the minutae of their everyday life. Yup.

And tea is very important to you. Very. Important.

You’ll run off to Africa soon, little Laura. And it will be fabulous. You’ll be enthused. You’ll be good at something. You’ll be in your element. For the next ten years after your gap year, you’ll refer back to it as a time of excitement and adventure. Just a few words of warning though – don’t get too excited by your new friends who take you in on the first night, they’ll drift away in a few months; also, please try and eat better – a plate of rice with some sweetcorn mixed in does not constitute a real meal, unfortunately; another thing, you’re going to mess up the article for the Namibian Independence Day by sleeping through the celebrations, shame on you.

And now, last but not least, F. Scott Fitzgerald still rocks your world. That fact is unchanged throughout your life. They make a new film of The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m going to let you watch it for yourself and make your own mind up….

J is for….

JET PLANE!

As in Leaving On A….

When I was 18, I decided to go on a gap year. I really decided who I went away with in a bit of a panic. Anyone else I knew who was taking a year out before uni had arranged it already. So panic set in and I applied for the first thing I saw. Thankfully, it was brilliant. Before we left, we went on a training course on a little island off the coast of Scotland.

My favourite favourite song, at this point in time, was Leaving On A Jet Plane by Peter, Paul and Mary. When getting to know everyone else on the course, one boy, who was probably the most fun ever, revealed that his favourite song was Leaving On A Jet Plane!

Omygod, no! That’s my favourite song! No, it’s my favourite song. Omygod, we’ve got the same favourite song! This is like fate! It’s totally fate. I love the version Bjork did. Do you remember it? No, I didn’t know she’d done a version. I like the one by Peter, Paul and Mary. Wow. Same favourite song. This is amazing. We’re like so best friends.

And so we went on our gap years, me to Africa, Joe to China. And we spent a few years being here, there and everywhere. Until finally, inevitably, we both ended up in London. And we are still good friends, in fact we met for dinner last week.

And there have been various songs that epitomise different times in our relationship. For example, Cool by Gwen Stefani and Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt will always transport me back to the time I spent in Beijing with Joe, around the time that both of those songs came out. On the day I flew home, we walked down a quiet road near his hutong singing loudly and when I got in a taxi to leave, the unfairness of constantly living so far apart really got to me.
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(Us pretending to be fabulous pianists in a hotel in Beijing)

And now we live at opposite ends of the same tube line in the same city! Although we’re no longer 18 and no longer act as if we’re on drugs that make you hyper, I knew that song meant something when we discovered it was both our favourite!

Thoughts

I’m having one of those I-can’t-think-what-to-write-about days. Well, actually, I should qualify that statement. I’m having a bit of a lazy morning where I’ve spent an hour or two reading other blogs and listening to an audiobook so now my brain is in too many different places to think of something to write about. So I shall just list the thoughts that are in my mind right now.

– Will I ever become a world famous piano player? Or will I forever be stuck on the line, “And you come to me on a summer breeze” from How Deep Is Your Love? And are ten fingers enough to play this piece of music? At the moment, I need about twelve to be able to play it properly.

– Chocolate and cherry mousse cake is fabulous. And making a genoise sponge for the first time went ok. As did making custard from scratch…

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– Beouf bourginon is not actually that difficult to make. It is also extremely tasty, despite its easiness…

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– Planning an African adventure is muchos fun, even if it isn’t going to happen for over a year…

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– I can’t cope with X Factor winner James Arthur’s ‘my-parents-divorced-when-I-was-a-kid-and-now-I’m-traumatised-for-life’ routine. I just want to shake him and say, “Get over yourself! Grow up! I know your parents are divorced but SO ARE EVERYONE ELSE’S!” He writes songs about it which are really ‘deep’ apparently. So his Mum says. “Yeah,” she goes, serious face on and eyes looking down to the ground. “It’s really… It’s really… (she searches for the appropriate word, having used deep about four times already)… It’s really… deep.” Thanks for that, o mother of great eloquence and feeling. It’s good to know that, as a man in his 20s, the single most important that has happened in his life is still the separation of his parents when he was in primary school. Sometimes, Mr Arthur, people are better apart. Get over it.

– My rooibos tea has gone cold.

– There is a cat digging in the garden. I didn’t know cats dug.

– I am really intrigued about what happened with Oscar Pistorius and his girlfriend. I genuinely really like him. I just finished reading his autobiography, Blade Runner, a few weeks ago and it was really good. He seems like a down-to-earth, decent type. And a brilliant athlete. His arrest for murder seems totally at odds with the man I imagined him to be. Of course, a book written by him will obviously give the impression that he portrays, not necessarily who he actually is. And by the same token, a charge for murder is not a conclusion of guilt. There’s this space in between the law and the media and the person’s own voice, where they reside, and I don’t suppose I can know who he is or what has happened. I guess we will see what the outcome is.

– Today I am going for lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in way too long. I am excited.

Narnia and I

Our relationship goes way back. Anyone who knows me well, knows about my Narnia-love.

I had probably read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at some point as a child but then my dad got me the box set in my teens and I read all seven chronicles. It took over my existence for a while. I rejoiced when they defeated the White Witch, when Caspian beat his uncle and reigned over Narnia, when Jill and Eustace broke Prince Rilian free from his spell and when Peter triumphed in the last battle. I despaired when Aslan was killed on the ancient table, when Nikabrik tried to overthrow Caspian and when Edmund and Lucy were told they had to leave Narnia. And I wept for the second half of the last book because I knew the end was nigh.

When in the Narnia zone, it becomes a very real place to me. It is the pleasant background to my normal day. Things are just generally nicer and more storybook, even when I’m just at work.

Right before going on our gap years, my friend Joe and I had walked from his house into Reading, which had taken about four hours. We had talked about Narnia a lot. It was one of those lovely days, early in our friendship when everything we said or did became a nice memory, stored up to take away with me. He left for his gap year before me so I sent him all seven books in the post to China and, miraculously, nothing happened to them along the way. I took a copy of the books with me to Africa and we started to read them on the 16th December, countries and oceans apart, to prepare for Christmas.

In fact, one day, whilst discussing Narnia with a bit of alcohol in our systems, two friends and I jumped into the rather big wardrobe we had in our room in Namibia, and searched around in the back for some snow or trees. We found neither.

Every year since then, I’ve started reading them on the 16th so I’m usually on book 4 or 5 by Christmas Day, and I keep reading till I finish them.

When my friend, Jay, started basically living on our sofa when we were at uni, I had started reading them as usual and I would always stay in the front room with her, on the other sofa. And we used to read the books to each other, a chapter each, until she got tired and I would keep reading until she had fallen asleep.

So last night, a few days later than usual, I picked up The Magician’s Nephew and started to read. All the lovely feelings of being on familiar ground and being in for a great read were ignited and I sipped my cup of tea and smiled.

“This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our world and the land of Narnia first began….”

Of COURSE there won’t be snow in Africa!

I just have to say something which has been on my mind for a while now. That song, Feed The World, which I thought was Free The World until really recently. It’s ridiculous.

“And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime.”
Duuuuh! Of course there won’t. What that got to do with anything? Is that fact supposed to evoke pity in me?

O no, they won’t have snow, they must be soooo gutted. I bet all that sunshine and warm weather is really bugging them and that they wish, in their hardship, that they had snow. It’s so hard living in a sunny country.

It’s the worst thing ever. If, as we are led to believe by the song, everyone in Africa is sitting around starving and poverty-stricken, do you really think SNOW, of all things, is going to help the situation? Now they’re starving, poverty-stricken and dying of pneumonia.

As an aside, there also “won’t be snow” in Australia this Christmastime but they can think again if they’re expecting a load of food parcels because of it!

The next bit, “The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life.” Talk about talking down to people! Like we’re whispering with a doctor about a cancer ridden old lady. Africa isn’t one massive country unable to do anything for itself or work out how to get food. If you’d have told any of the people in the town in Namibia where I lived that the greatest gift they could expect was to not die, I’m pretty sure they would have found it hilarious. They were people like you or I and they were doing ok. Of course there are places of extreme poverty in many countries in Africa but as a whole, it’s just not possible to write one song, applicable to all, about how everyone is starving. It’s really offensive.

And lastly, “Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?” To be honest, I don’t think it’s very high on the priority list. A lot of African countries aren’t Christian. It makes absolutely no sense to say, ‘O, isn’t it awful? They don’t have any celebrations at Christmas.’ It’s like a Muslim country singing a song about how awful it is for us in Britain and “Do they know it’s Ramadan time at all?” Well, no, I don’t know when Ramadan is, not because I’m terribly unfortunate and you must raise money for me. Just because it’s not something I celebrate anyway. So to say about Africa, do they know it’s Christmas – probably some of them don’t. What on earth has that got to do with how poor they are or aren’t?

And that is my rant over and done with. I’ve been needing to let that out for years over this stupid stupid song.

Thank you.

PS I’ve just remembered that there was a town further inland from Luderitz, where I lived, which did get snow! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Bob Geldof. Was it Bob Geldof?

A dedication to my childhood friend

My favourite friend when I was a little girl at school had blond hair, like me. She was a little bit short, like me. And we were always together. People used to mix us up.

One time we swapped shoes for fun at breaktime and forgot to swap them back. Our parents were quite annoyed at us when we went home with the wrong shoes on.

We used to play with two dinosaur shaped erasers, one blue and one green. The game we played consisted of us burying the dinosaurs at break time then coming back at lunch time and digging them up. It was a pretty good game, if I remember rightly. We were about six years old and inseparable.

When we were about nine or ten, my favourite friend said she was moving away. They were moving Wales, which was the other side of the world for all I knew! I now know that it was essentially just down the road, a few hours at most. But then, it was the most far away place I could imagine. I was pretty gutted.

A few years of letter-writing later and we planned a visit. My mum drove a friend and I to her house and we stayed overnight. It was hilarious. We ‘made’ a Ouija board and made out we were terrified of looking in the mirror at midnight. We giggled and pulled our stuff into the front room, away from the mirrors, to sleep.

A few years later, my friend came to Liverpool to stay over. Another friend was there too and we had great fun. The next visit was a few years later, when my friend came to look at the university in Liverpool on an open day.

Then I left for Africa and lost contact with most people. I then went to university in Glasgow for a bit and one day, I decided to try texting her old phone number. She was still using it! Amazing! A bit of catch up and lunch in Liverpool next time I was back re-established the friendship.

Next thing I knew, I was back and forth travelling quite a bit before settling into a different course in London and we start emailing again. She’s in Thailand, teaching! Perfect. I had just started sponsoring a little girl in Viet Nam and was really keen to visit her. So I planned a trip to see my little sponsor girl in Viet Nam and my friend in Thailand. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was such fun.

The next year, after she had returned to England, I went back to Asia with a friend and she came for two weeks of our trip. That was in 2007. She moved to Hungary for a few years next.

I don’t think we’ve seen each other since then. We’ve been friends a long time now. Over twenty years. I don’t think I’ve known anyone (excluding family) for that long!

And then, a few months ago, my friend Facebooked. She had a place on a postgraduate course at my old university, down the road!

This is very exciting. For a whole year, my childhood best friend will be living down the road, instead of across the world.

Tonight, she is coming for dinner. I am preparing a feast. When I get excited, I cook. I hope I don’t burn everything now, in a frenzy of excitement and forgetfulness.